Demand and efficiency

Using energy more efficiently and reducing and managing energy demand are of critical importance for providing the world’s future energy needs in an environmentally responsible and affordable manner. Energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) fell worldwide by 1% per year from 1980 to 2010, and there is potential to do better. The International Energy Agency’s New Policies Scenario (NPS) projects an annual decrease in energy intensity of 1.8% per year in the period to 2035, when energy use is projected to be 8% lower than with current policies. Analysis by the IEA, the IPCC and others consistently suggests that a 20% improvement in energy efficiency is possible by measures that save money, which immediately raises the question – why is it not happening?

Realising potential efficiency gains requires better understanding of how energy users (individual and corporate) behave, which social, psychological, infrastructure and economic factors affect their energy use and how they interact with more efficient technologies and techniques. These questions have important implications for energy policy design. Key factors in decreasing demand are likely to be improved design and construction of buildings and better planning of cities and transport systems. Shifting the time of electricity demand will be necessary to make better use of variable and inflexible generation resources and thereby reduce peaks loads and generation investment costs, whilst enabling decentralised generation and new large-scale uses, e.g. in electric cars (in this area Energy Demand research is closely linked with Electricity Networks and Transport research).

Research in Oxford

A man using laptop with a motor in the distance
More efficient axial electric motors, are being commercialised by spin-out YASA Motors

Energy demand and efficiency are addressed by researchers from across the natural and social sciences. Oxford researchers advance technologies to reduce consumption, develop our understanding of energy use and work on policy assessment and innovation.


Oxford scientists and engineers are making numerous contributions to the advances required for new technologies to reduce energy use. These include compact electric motors for vehicles (see also Transport), advanced internal combustion engines, improved gas turbines, lightweight airframe and automotive materials, improved fuel cells, new and improved catalysts, and low cost sensors and monitors for energy and environmental data collection. More efficient axial electric motors, are being commercialised by spin-out YASA Motors.

Smarter electricity grids have the potential to better manage supply and demand, and deal with higher levels of micro-generation, storage and electrification of heat and transport, making better use of information that is becoming available, e.g. from smart meters. Oxford researchers have developed methods to analyse energy data for use in research and to provide information that will help energy users (see for instance Oxford spin-outs Pilio and Navetas). Research includes the impact of this additional information on energy use behaviour and practices – see also WICKED, an interdisciplinary project on generating knowledge and data on energy management in the retail sector, and Electricity Networks.


Within Oxford’s inter-disciplinary institutes, researchers are looking at the social, behavioural, economic, institutional and policy factors which drive the uptake and use of new technologies and practices that influence energy demand, and the impact of new economic instruments, such as carbon markets, on demand.

Cities account for an increasingly large share of global energy consumption. Oxford researchers work on the design of cities and their infrastructure to encourage the use of low impact transport modes, such as walking, cycling and public transport.

Research on efficient buildings considers the energy using practices of inhabitants and identifies the supply chain skills, capacity and organisational requirements needed to deliver ambitious changes through new build and retro-fit measures, both in the residential and commercial sector. Analysis also includes the role of fuel switching, especially electrification.

The inclusion of less flexible and intermittent low carbon generation (such as wind) may necessitate a more responsive demand side. Oxford researchers collect energy and time use information and model intermittency of future energy systems to assess the role of demand side flexibility options in contributing towards system balancing and stability. This closer integration of electricity demand into markets is a key feature of the Oxford Martin Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy (see accompanying case study).

The scope of research at Oxford covers the social and institutional contexts of demand, including the role of local communities and civil society groups. These are expected to play a greater role in shaping and owning parts of our future energy systems. Oxford researchers have evaluated community energy initiatives and explored future business models for their effective integration into future energy systems.

This work has important implications for energy infrastructure development (see also Electricity Networks). It informs new policy options available to drive change and identifies appropriate governance frameworks.


Energy policy on demand reduction relies on robust evidence assessment and academic scrutiny. Oxford researchers inform policy makers on the effectiveness of demand side policies and advise on the design of policy instruments, especially in relation to public uptake and demand reduction potential. In addition some of our research, for example in the UK Energy Research Centre, seeks to explore the policy processes through which decisions are actually taken.

Oxford researchers work closely with industry and other stakeholders to understand policy implications, with considerable impact in the media, academic literature and among policy makers, in the UK, at EU level and internationally. They regularly give evidence to parliament, provide input to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and have a long track record of innovative policy development, especially in the areas of fuel poverty, personal carbon trading, energy efficiency and demand response. This work is underpinned by Oxford’s expertise in international policy comparisons.