Edinburgh Research Explorer

Dr Martin Pullinger

Senior Researcher

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Phone: +44 (0) 131 651 5641

Current Research Interests

  • The role of digital technologies in sustainability transitions
  • Sustainable practices and behaviour change
  • Assumptions embedded in decarbonisation scenarios
  • Quantitative and mixed methods social research

Research Interests

I am an interdisciplinary researcher interested in the potential of data science and digital technologies to help understand and respond to social and environmental sustainability issues.
My current research looks in particular at how digital meters, machine learning methods, energy feedback and smart control technologies can be utilised by different stakeholders, from members of the public to researchers and policymakers, to better understand and reduce energy use and to increase energy demand flexibility. The work has implications for the design of smart meter and energy demand policy and practice, to facilitate an affordable and equitable energy system transition.
The two main components of my work are: 
  • evaluating how the scenarios, models and assumptions about the role of 'smart systems' that are incorporated into energy policy and planning compare to the actual lived experience of people using these technologies in their homes; and
  • understanding how to improve these technologies to enable different groups in society to benefit from them and to support effective energy demand interventions. 
I also contribute to the development of quantitative tools and methods that utilise digital data sources to help to improve our understanding of the physical and behavioural factors which shape energy use and to evaluate the effects of energy efficiency interventions. I draw particularly on socio-technical studies, practice and capabilities theories, and behavioural economics and psychology in my work.

Current work

I currently work as a Senior Researcher on two projects:

Smart Energy Research Lab - facilitating energy research for the public good (2017-2022)
This EPSRC-funded project aims to create the infrastructure and procedures to facilitate secure access to smart meter data for academic research purposes. This will greatly facilitate research into the energy system and the impacts of energy policy and practice, contributing to solutions to the 'energy trilemma' (security, affordability and environmental sustainability). I work on the development and evaluation of an innovative smart meter-enabled energy feedback and advice service aiming to support and encourage home energy demand reduction and shifting. This is one of the demonstration projects to make use of the SERL data portal for smart technology, energy policy and other evaluations. I also work on stakeholder engagement elements of SERL in Scotland. Read more about SERL.

IDEAL - Smarter home energy systems (2013-2019)
This large, EPSRC-funded project explores the potential of enhanced sensor systems and Machine Learning methods to improve energy feedback displays and smart heating controls in homes. My work evaluates the impacts of these systems on occupant energy awareness and attitudes, as well as changes in energy using activities and actual energy use. Read more about IDEAL.


Earlier work

BIGSMALL - Measuring (un)sustainable practices (2015-2018)
This EPSRC-funded project developed novel machine learning methods for inferring household energy using practices based on the 'traces' they leave in signals from a variety of sensors in the home (electricity and gas use, temperature and humidity). The project helped determine the extent to which the performance of everyday energy using activities can be inferred based on smart meter data and other data sources. My work evaluated the potential for these inferences to a) help us better understand the relationships between energy-using activities, their impacts, and the factors which shape them; and b) provide enhanced feedback to householders.

Much of my earlier research focused on how changes in our domestic practices can enable us to lead less resource (energy and water) intensive, whilst possibly more fulfilling, lifestyles. I have a background in understanding how patterns of work (Pullinger, 2011, 2013) and everyday practices (Pullinger, Anderson, Browne, & Medd, 2013) influence carbon footprints, energy and water use in the home, as well as wellbeing, and how options for changing individual practices are shaped and constrained by wider policy and socio-technical systems (Pullinger 2011, 2013, 2014; Pullinger, Lovell and Webb, 2014; Browne, Medd, Pullinger, & Anderson, 2014). I have contributed to the development of new quantitative and mixed methods approaches to measuring and tracking practices, their influences and their impacts (Browne, Pullinger, Medd, & Anderson, 2014).

Previous research projects:
  • EPSRC ARCC-Water project (www.arcc-water.org.uk), University of Lancaster, 2012-13. Investigating the daily water using practices, habits and routines which contribute to household water use. I contributed to the development of new quantitative and mixed methods approaches to researching these topics.
  • ESRC-funded PhD, University of Edinburgh 2006-11. Investigating the potential of policies which allow individuals to voluntarily reduce paid work, and hence levels of income and consumption, to reduce their carbon footprints.
  • Scottish Government, 2009. Investigating the role of product ecodesign in contributing to waste reduction in Scotland, producing a discussion paper for their 2009 Zero Waste strategy consultation.

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