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What is Energy Epidemiology?

Energy epidemiology is a means to investigate causes and effects of key factors affecting energy demand within a population or sub-populations, which may relate to various scales from individuals and buildings to communities or building complexes.

Energy epidemiology takes into account the complex interactions between the physical and built environment, socio-economic characteristics, and individuals interactions and practices.

Energy epidemiology seeks to provide a description of the broader context and provide an environment within which individual studies can be contextualized and systematically assessed.

Energy research and its subject matter are comparable in complexity to health research. Epidemiology has been a key strand in health research since the mid 19th century, complementing the primarily bottom-up laboratory and case-based physiological approaches. In the light of the parallels – and we have been continuously surprised by how close these are - the core task of our Centre for Energy Epidemiology (one of six EPSRC-funded Energy End Use Demand Centres) will be to adapt the full range of experience of 150+ years of medical epidemiology to provide an overarching structure to Energy End Use Demand research, and to provide a stream of insight to guide policy formation and evaluation through a pivotal quinquennium.

The transfer of the epidemiological approach to energy demand is not a direct application but an adaption of those tools and methods that can best serve the study of the complex interactions between factors involving energy use practices and social structures, physical process, engineered systems and environmental factors that lead to an energy demand level outcome. However, in keeping with the basic approach (Coggon et al, 2003), the epidemiological study of energy demand must:

Describe and measure the distributions of variable(s) of interest, e.g. energy demand per unit of observation

  • Explain the distribution by its determinant factors: physical, environmental, social, behavioural and economic
  • Support models that predict the changes expected in the distribution due to interventions, particularly energy efficiency and behavioural control measures
  • Provide an evidence basis for informing policy related to the management of end-use energy demand.

Energy Epidemiology involves the systematic study of the distributions and patterns of energy use and their causes or influences in populations. It uses statistical association to impose top-down, theoretically parsimonious constraints on bottom-up science. It deals with the whole energy system and draws from detailed research of its sub-systems, focuses on outcomes such as reduced delivered energy or carbon emissions rather than intermediate performance indicators. It is interdisciplinary, facilitating and illuminating enquiry from the perspectives of economics and social science as well as physical processes and engineered systems. It will support the developments of technologies, changes in behaviour and policies and is action-oriented.