POWBAL Imperial - FAQs

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 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 wholesale power prices are low, we can reduce the cost of supplying energy. 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 power prices in the UK are relatively low. 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 pilot version of this study will be monitoring the user data for approximately 3 months and will be recording your behaviour vis a vis switch off events and daily appliance usage. If at any point of time you do not wish to continue the study, you can choose to leave the study and can choose whether your already collected data is used by us for analysis. You will receive regular support from our research team to help you participate in this study. A process of gradual phasing out of incentives will be followed after 13 weeks.

What are the benefits of participation?

In addition to the free smart plug, you stand a chance to win rewards in proportion to the amount of energy you avoid consuming through the plug during switch-off events.

Rewards: Rewards come in the form of Amazon vouchers, which are redeemable in the UK.

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

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.

Aman Haider
Aman Haider
Research Manager