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Frequently Asked Questions

What is POWBAL?

As technologies continue to enhance our everyday lives, we are ever more reliant on electricity. As a result, ensuring we have reliable and clean electricity generation systems in the UK has become an important and challenging goal. One component of the solution is to make our electricity demand more flexible: if we can shift usage that is not time sensitive to times when the wind blows and the sun shines, supplying us with abundant clean energy, it will be cheaper to produce more electricity from such renewable resources. But how do we decide what is time sensitive and how do we shift usage?

Which electricity usage is time sensitive will vary from person to person. With the POWBAL project, we are beginning to understand which electricity usage households consider to be time sensitive and when electricity usage is more flexible.

Participants in POWBAL are provided a free smart plug which can be controlled and monitored remotely via the internet. We ask you to use this plug for electricity consumption that you deem non-time-sensitive (some examples are provided in the table below). For instance, you could use it to power devices with battery backup (e.g. laptops).

We will use the plug to measure the amount of time-flexible electricity consumption at various times, which allows us to form an understanding of the potential for shifting usage to times when the UK experiences an abundance of power from renewable sources. We do so by switching off the plug from time to time for brief intervals (which may also help you to save a little on your energy bills). If you do not override these switch-off events, that will show us that whatever you have connected to the plug is indeed not time-sensitive at that particular time. It is important to note that you will always be able to override such a switch-off event either manually via a button on the plug, via the online interface, or via the POWBAL app.

What happens once I sign up?

Once you have consented to participate, please feel free to connect your smart plug to any appliance of your choosing, as you would a travel converter. As mentioned above, this will allow us to measure the amount of energy consumption that is not time-sensitive at various times, giving us insight into the flexibility of energy consumers’ electricity usage.

How long should I participate?

The pre-pilot version of this study

What are the benefits of participation?

In addition to the energy savings and the free smart plug, we will hold regularly scheduled raffles of Tango Card vouchers every two weeks.

Rewards: Rewards come in the form of Tango Card vouchers, which are currently redeemable in the UK to Amazon, Argos, Caffe Nero, Debenhams, Decathlon, Google Play, Halfords, iTunes, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, New Look, Nike, Pizza Express, Starbucks, Steam Wallet, Tesco, The Great British Pub (i.e. all participating UK pubs), Ticketmaster, TK Maxx, Uber, and Zalanda.

Raffle procedure: The rewards distributed depend on the number of participants signed up to POWBAL, where rewards increase with the number of participants1. For instance, if 250 participants take part in a given year, we would give away approximately £5000 worth of Tango vouchers. In this way, we ensure that more participation does not disadvantage any individual participant. The raffles for these vouchers will be conducted every two weeks. Winners receive vouchers by email.

Which electronic or appliance should I plug in via my POWBAL plug?

Consuming more power via the smart plug, by plugging your most energy-consuming time-flexible devices into the smart plug (examples below) increases your chances of winning vouchers.

Appliance or Electronic Consumption Level Annual Energy Use Potential Risks*
Refrigerator (modern Energy Star - decades old fridge/freezer) High 350 - 2000 kWh None
Television (LCD - old Plasma) Medium - High 240-400 kWh None
Laptop charger Medium 130-175 kWh None
Toaster Low 85 kWh None
Television LED / Computer screen Low 55 kWh None
Television (off, i.e. on standby) Low 22kWh None
Hair electronics Low 11 kWh None
* apart from turning off while in use

Beyond making a little extra cash, through your participation, the team behind POWBAL will be able to learn more about enhancing energy efficiency in our community, helping you and those around you to save money while contributing to environmental improvements both locally and globally.

What do I do if my plug is not online?

If your plug is not online, please make sure that (i) it is connected to a socket that is switched on, and (ii) the wifi signal is strong enough near your plug (e.g., by connecting your phone or laptop to the wifi network and checking the strength near your plug).

What about privacy?

All data obtained from participants will be kept confidential and will only be reported in an aggregated and anonymised format. All questionnaires will be concealed, and no one other than the investigators and assistant researchers will have access to them. The data collected will be stored in a secure database. The primary purpose of the data collection is academic research, and all data collection and storage is in compliance with GDPR regulation.

Are there any risks to my involvement in POWBAL?

We do not expect any risks or discomforts to arise from participation in POWBAL. However, you can contact us any time at powbal@imperial.ac.uk if you experience any issues. This email address will be monitored daily.

Can I withdraw my participation if I change my mind?

Participation is completely voluntary, and you have a right to withdraw your participation at any time (or refuse to participate entirely), without penalty or consequences. If you choose to withdraw, you will be asked whether we can use your already collected energy usage data. If you confirm, we will include the data to continue to enhance our understanding of energy demand flexibility. Should you choose to withdraw your consent, we will delete your data from our files and permanently delete your consent form.

Will someone be available to help if I have questions or concerns during my participation in POWBAL?

Yes. You can contact us any time at powbal@imperial.ac.uk. If necessary, a member of the project team may be available to meet with you to discuss issues and concerns, as well.

  1. Every two weeks we will hold a raffle where participants can win up to £(10 × number of active participants) in e-vouchers. So assuming we have 250 participants, any participant in any fortnightly raffle can win up to £2500. Chances of winning depend on the amount of load balancing - that is, electricity consumption through the smart plug that gets displaced during our switch-off events - that an individual resident contributes in the preceding 2-week period. The detailed raffle procedure is as follows: for every POWBAL participant during those two weeks, we add a voucher worth £10 (i.e. £2500 for our target of 250 participants). Those vouchers will be given away by drawing ‘raffle tickets’, where the number of raffle tickets per participant for these draws is proportional to their load balancing contribution. There is a 10% chance that any given £10 voucher gets allocated to a participant; i.e. 90% of the raffle tickets are ‘blank’. The number of draws every two weeks is equivalent to the number of participants (i.e. 250 in this case), and each raffle ticket gets replaced after each draw. Hence over 20 two-week periods, in the example of 250 participants, we would expect to give away a total of 20 × 10% × £2500 = £5000 in e-vouchers to participants, with those contributing most to load balancing receiving the highest rewards.↩︎