Peak demand and the 'family peak' period in Australia: understanding practice (in)flexibility in households with children

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Smart grid technologies enable introduction of time-of-use (TOU) tariffs which aim to reduce peak demand. TOU tariffs are presented as financial opportunities but outcomes depend on flexibility in household practices. Households with children have higher peak electricity consumption and this paper investigates how and why practices performed during the weekday peak 'hang together'. We conducted forty-four interviews and home tours followed by a survey (547 responses) of households with children in Australia. Our analysis finds that the family peak is tightly coordinated and routinised. Interlinked bundles of practices were meaningful beyond their commonly assumed functions. For example, bathing of children (re-) connected siblings and parents, occupied children while dinner was prepared or cleaned up, and calmed children in preparation for sleeping. The analysis also shows how flexibility during the peak period is constrained by the relation to other periods of the weekday, along with its synchronisation with school, work and childcare arrangements. From our analysis of we conclude that TOU tariffs are unlikely to effectively reduce peak period electricity consumption in households with children and may have inequitable financial and/or social impacts for these households. Alternative approaches that better engage with the dynamics of social practice in family households are suggested.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-124
Number of pages9
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Demand management
  • Families
  • Households
  • Social practices

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