Dr Sarah Darby


Research Groups

Dr Sarah Darby

Associate Professor


Sarah Darby began researching social dimensions of energy use through evaluating the effectiveness of domestic energy advice programmes, which introduced her to some of the many ways of describing and analysing how people and technologies interact in buildings. She works with colleagues and resources from the disciplines of human ecology, economics, education, engineering, evaluation studies, policy studies, psychology and sociology, and has a particular interest in the intelligibility of energy systems. How, where and when are ‘tacit’ know-how and formal knowledge needed, and how do people acquire and use these types of knowledge? How is intelligence distributed between humans and things in an energy system? What does that distribution mean for workability and flexibility, and for social, physical and ecological outcomes?

Sarah holds a BSc in Ecological Science from Edinburgh University, a postgraduate Diploma in Planning from Oxford Polytechnic and a DPhil from Oxford University (Awareness, action and feedback in domestic energy use). Non-academic work includes community development in Kenya and several years as a trustee of Oxfam (UK and Ireland). Sarah contributes to teaching on the MSc course in Environmental Change and Management.

Current research interests

Most of Sarah’s work relates to assessing the potential for demand response in electricity systems as they integrate more renewable supply and as patterns of demand change. She contributes to the body of work that analyses electricity grids as dynamic socio-technical systems, functioning through interactions between hardware, ‘software’ (regulations, billing systems, tariffs etc.), formal and informal knowledge, and the activities of energy users and industry practitioners. The aim is to assess what different ‘smart grid’ options at different scales mean in terms of daily life, governance and environmental impact. She maintains her interest in energy feedback and advice and developments in smart metering.

Current and recent research projects

UKERC (UK Energy Research Centre) Theme 5: key challenges in energy decision-making. Working on (1) Understanding energy demand: energy-using practices and energy services; (2) Demand-side response decisions. Funded by the Research Councils' UK Energy Programme, Jan 2015-Dec 2017

INTEGRATE, the Oxford Martin Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy Addressing the technical, economic and governance challenges of integrating high levels of variable renewable energy sources into electricity systems. Co-I, leading on demand-side issues. Funded by the Oxford Martin School, Oct 2015-Sept 2019

RealValue (Realising Value from Electricity Markets with Local Smart Electric Thermal Storage Technology) . RealValue (Realising Value from Electricity Markets with Local Smart Electric Thermal Storage Technology) Using domestic storage heating in Ireland, Germany and Latvia to benefit households and electricity markets. PI for Oxford contribution, working with Glen Dimplex, Intel, University College Dublin, DIW, RTU, VTT, ESBN, EirGrid, e.on and SSE. Funded by the European Commission (Horizon 2020), June 2015-May 2018

UserTEC (User Practices, Technologies and Residential Energy Consumption) (Co-I). A multidisciplinary research project to improve understanding of user practices and interaction with new technologies. The project is led by the University of Aalborg and funded by the Danish Council for Strategic Research, with partners at the Universities of Cambridge and Linkoping, Delft Technical University and the Technical University of Denmark. Mar 2013-Mar 2018.

CEGADS (Community Energy Generation, Aggregation and Demand Shaping). A trial of new technology to enable communities to make better use of locally -generated electricity.PI for Oxford contribution, with Energy Local Ltd., De Montfort University, Exergy Devices Ltd., The Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust, Energise Sussex Cost and Cooperative Energy Ltd. Funded by Innovate UK. Jan 2015- June 2017

Energy-24. Part of the CNTUR (Collecting New Time Use Resources) programme based at the Centre for Time Use Research, Oxford University Department of Sociology. This is producing time diary resources for use by social science, public health, environmental and other research communities. It includes a new UK national time diary study using methods in the Eurostat Harmonised European Time Use Study guidelines, and a set of projects combining diaries and technical instrumentation (accelerometers, body cameras, high-resolution smart energy meters). Funded by the ESRC (ES/L011662/1).

EVALOC (evaluation of the impacts, effectiveness and success of low carbon communities) (Co-I). An action research approach, working with six communities in England and Wales to monitor, model and map the impacts of retrofit and social initiatives on energy consumption. Also developed and tested 'toolkits' for monitoring, evaluation and communication. Co-I. With Oxford Brookes University. Funded by the ESRC, (ES/I006664/1). Jan 2011 - Jun 2014.

Smart Meters Early Learning Synthesis (PI). An analysis of consumer benefits in relation to smart meter rollout, especially energy savings; identification of what is likely to be effective in increasing benefits during mass rollout in Great Britain; development of a systematic, theory-informed means of evaluation. PI, with partners in the University of Ulster and the Tavistock Institute. Funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Sept 2013-Dec 2014

Synthesis of work on UK Energy Research Centre Demand Theme during UKERC phase 2. Autumn/winter 2013/14. NERC, NE/G007748/1. (PI)

SuperGEN HiDEF (Highly Distributed Energy Future). Developing approaches, technologies and policies to provide a secure and sustainable electricity system through widespread deployment of distributed resources. With Imperial College and Bath, Cardiff, Loughborough and Strathclyde Universities. Funded by the Research Councils UK Energy Programme, 2010-2014.

Advisory and Review

2016 - Peer review college, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

2014 – Editorial board, Building Research and Information

2013 – Evaluation panel, Swiss Competence Centre for Research in Energy, Society and Transition

2011-14 Social science advisory group, ‘Customer-led Network Revolution’, (Low Carbon Networks Fund project), Durham Energy Institute

2011-14 Peer review college, Economic and Social Research Council

2011-14 Advisory group, ‘The Role of Community-based Initiatives in Energy Saving’, Southampton University

2006-2010 External evaluation team member for the UK Energy Demand Research Project (EDRP), a set of trials of domestic smart meters and associated interventions

Sarah has reviewed papers, reports and proposals for journals and organisations including Energy Policy, Energy Efficiency, Energy, Climate Policy, Energy Economics, Environmental Science and Policy, Energy and Buildings, Environment and Planning (A and C), IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid, Indoor and Built Environment, Intelligent Buildings International, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Environmental Psychology, The Energy Journal, Transactions of IEEE Power & Energy, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Applied Energy; Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (UK), National Science Foundation (USA), American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Belgian Science Policy Office, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, Electric Power Research Institute (USA), and the Brattle Group.


  • Butler, C., Darby, S., Henfrey, T., Hoggett, R. and Hole, N. (2013) People and Communities in Energy Security. In, Mitchell, C., Watson, J. and Whiting, J. (eds.) New Challenges in Energy Security: The UK in a Multipolar World. Palgrave, London.
  • Darby, S.J. (2013) The role of smart meters in carbon management. Carbon Management, 4(2): 111-113. Editorial.
  • Darby, S.J. and Pisica, I. (2013) Focus on electricity tariffs: experience and exploration of different charging schemes. European Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy summer study, Hyères, June 3-7, 2013. Paper 8-318-13.
  • Darby, S.J., Strömbäck, J. and Wilks, M. (2013) Potential carbon impacts of smart grid development in six European countries. Energy Efficiency, 6(4): 725-739.
  • Darby, S. (2011) Load management at home: advantages and drawbacks of some 'active demand side' options. Proceedings, 2nd International Conference in Microgeneration and Related Technologies in Buildings, Microgen '11', University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, April 4-6.
  • Darby, S. (2011) The 'time' dimension of electricity, options for the householder and implications for policy. Proceedings, World Renewable Energy Congress, Linköping, Sweden, May 8-11.
  • Darby, S., Anderson, W. and White, V. (2011) Large-scale testing of new technology: some lessons from the UK smart metering and feedback trials. Proceedings, European Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Summer Study Paper 7-524.
  • Gupta, R. and Darby, S. (2011) Action research approach for gaining, and providing, feedback on domestic energy use to understand occupant behaviour, perceptions and expectations., Oxford, UK. Paper presented at Energy and People: Futures, complexity and challenges, 21-22 September, 2011.
  • Novikova, A., Amecke, H., Neuhoff, K., Stelmakh, K., Kiss, B., Rohde, C., Dunkelberg, E., Weiss, J., Matscoss, K. and Darby, S. (2011) Information tools for energy demand reduction in existing residential buildings. CPI Report Climate Policy Initiative.
  • Pyrko, J. and Darby, S. (2011) Conditions of energy efficient behaviour - a comparative study between Sweden and the UK. Energy Efficiency, 4(3): 393-408.
  • Darby, S. (2009) Conditions of behavioural changes towards efficient energy use - a comparative study between Sweden and the UK..
  • Darby, S. (2009) Implementing Article 13 of the Energy Services Directive and defining the purpose of new metering infrastructures. Proceedings of the European Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Summer Study. Paper(2262).
  • Darby, S. (2009) Literature review: real-time energy display functionality. Appendix 3 in Anderson, W. and White, V. Exploring the functionality of real-time home energy displays. Report to the Energy Saving Trust. Centre for Sustainable Energy, Bristol, UK
  • Parag, Y. and Darby, S. (2009) Consumer-supplier-government triangular relations: rethinking the UK policy path for carbon emissions reduction from the UK residential sector. Energy Policy, 37(10): 3984-3992.
  • Darby, S. (2006) Social learning and public policy: lessons from an energy-conscious village. Energy Policy, 34(17): 2929-2940.
  • Darby, S. (2006) The effectiveness of feedback on energy consumption. A review for DEFRA of the literature on metering, billing and direct displays..
  • Palmer, J., Boardman, B., Bottrill, C., Darby, S., Hinnells, M., Killip, G., Layberry, R. and Lovell, H. (2006) Reducing the environmental impact of housing. Final Report, Consultancy study in support of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollutions 26th Report on the Urban Environment.
  • Darby, S. (2005) Learning about energy - how will low-impact energy use become a way of life. Proceedings of the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (eceee) 2005 Summer Study - What works & who delivers?, 30 May - 4 June 2005.. 1335-1342. ISBN: 9163140020.
  • Darby, S. (2003) Making sense of energy advice. Proceedings, European Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Summer Study, paper 6,157.
  • Boardman, B. and Darby, S. (2000) Effective Advice: energy efficiency and the disadvantaged. Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, UK.
  • Darby, S. (2000) Making it obvious: designing feedback into energy consumption. Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Energy Efficiency in Household Appliances and Lighting. Italian Association of Energy Economists / EC-SAVE programme.
  • Darby, S. (1999) Energy advice - what is it worth?, 5, Paper III Proceedings of the European Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Summer Study.
  • Green, J., Darby, S., Maby, C. and Boardman, B. (1998) Advice into action An evaluation of the effectiveness of energy advice to low income households. Keswick (United Kingdom): Eaga Charitable Trust