Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

Dr Sarah Darby


Research Groups

Dr Sarah Darby

Associate Professor and Acting Deputy Leader, Energy Programme


Sarah Darby became interested in the social nature of energy use when evaluating home energy advice programmes, which introduced her to the many ways of describing and analysing how people and technologies interact in buildings. She works with colleagues and ideas from a range of disciplines in search of a better understanding of how energy systems work for different actors in different situations, and how they might develop in more environmentally and socially benign ways. She has a particular interest in the intelligibility / user-friendliness of technologies and buildings.

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). She contributes to teaching on the MSc course in Environmental Change and Management.

Current research interests

Sarah studies the introduction of ‘smart’ devices to electricity systems and assesses the potential for demand-side response in systems that are integrating more renewable supply and coping with changing patterns of demand. She contributes to a body of work that interprets energy systems as socio-technical, functioning through interactions between hardware, ‘software’ (regulations, billing systems, tariffs etc.), knowledge and know-how, and human activities. She maintains an interest in energy feedback and advice, and developments in smart metering.

Current and recent research projects

LEO (Local Energy Oxfordshire). Major demonstration project to create a local energy marketplace and enable more active network management. Leading on learning and dissemination. Funded by Innovate UK, Apr 2019-Mar 2022.

NEWCOMERS (New clean energy communities in a changing European energy system) is exploring new business models for energy communities, with the aim of drawing up practical recommendations for how EU, national and local governments can support them. PI for Oxford, leading on case studies. Funded by the European Commission (Horizon 2020), June 2019-May 2022

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-Mar 2021

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 2015-2019

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.

Advisory and Review

2019 - Editorial board, Buildings and Cities

2018 – Editorial board, Energy Research and Social Science

2017 – Technical advisory board, HELP project (Humanitarian Energy for displaced populations in refugee camp and informal settlements) funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund,

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

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

2014-2018 – Editorial board, Building Research and Information

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

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.


  • Barnes, J., Hansen, P. and Darby, S. (2021) Smart and Fair Local Energy: Introducing Energy Local. NEWCOMERS Research Brief.
  • Blasch, J., Grijp, N., Van Der, M., Petrovics, D., Palm, J., Bocken, N., Darby, S.J., Barnes, J., Hansen, P., Kamin, T., Golob, U., Andor, M., Sommer, S., Nicita, A., Musolino, M. and Mlinari, M. (2021) New clean energy communities in polycentric settings: Four avenues for future research. Energy Research and Social Science, 82. 102276.
  • Hansen, P., Barnes, J. and Darby, S.J. (2021) First things first: laying the foundations for smart energy communities by exploring concepts and realities in European case studies. European Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Summer Study, 7-11 June, 2021.
  • 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