Associate Professor Yolande Strengers

CHANGING DIGITAL LIFESTYLES – FORECASTING TO MANAGE ENERGY DEMAND

Interests: digital sociology and technologies, energy consumption, emerging technologies, science and technology, smart home, sustainability, gender and diversity

Associate Professor Yolande Strengers is a digital sociologist and human-computer interaction (HCI) scholar investigating the energy and gender effects of digital, emerging and smart technologies on how we live and engage with each other. She started out in communications and event coordination roles with environmental and energy NGOs. After her Bachelor of Arts (Deans Scholars Program, Monash University) and Master’s in international urban and environmental management, it was time for a PhD in Social Science (from RMIT University). “I applied for (and received!) a scholarship from the Australasian CRC for Interactive Design - that really took me onto a digital technology path, but within a social science school. My PhD was on smart metering for energy and water in Australian households. That also heightened my interest and fascination with smart technologies in the home. The gender interest emerged because it was impossible to ignore - both in terms of the gender bias in the energy and IT sectors, and in terms of the gendered roles and responsibilities in the home, and particularly in relation to everyday activities that consume energy”.

In February 2019, Yolande joined the Faculty of IT as part of the Emerging Technologies Research Lab at Monash University, where she will be leading the energy futures theme. The Lab’s core themes include energy futures, future mobilities, technology and sustainability, future health and future shared environments. “I'm really enjoying building the themes and focus of the Emerging Technologies Lab with my new colleagues and getting to know the related research going on at the university. Our emphasis in the Emerging Technologies lab is about how people experience and engage with new technologies into the future - the potential is always different from the reality. Hence, we need to carefully design and research emerging technologies with those intended to use and benefit from them.”

In the energy field, Yolande has led a range of projects focused on smart grids and homes, variable pricing (e.g. time-of-use tariffs and peak rebates), demand management initiatives, direct load control of air-conditioning, and distributed energy resources at the household scale. Together with her RMIT and Monash colleagues, Yolande’s energy industry research partners have included Energy Consumers Australia, electricity distributors and consumer advocacy organisations. The home environment is expanding - you can turn your air-conditioning or heater on from anywhere in the world for example - raising questions about monitoring your home, new energy demands, and changing social expectations. Together with Professor Sarah Pink and energy partners, Yolande has recently been awarded an ARC Linkage grant that ties people’s everyday experiences and practices to interdisciplinary, industrial-scale forecasting and modelling in the energy and sustainability sectors. “Our energy partners are interested in understanding householders’ changing digital lifestyles to inform energy forecasting, demand management programs, and energy policies. The big question for this project is: how are we going to be living in the future, and what will that mean for energy demand? We aim to develop an interdisciplinary methodology to forecast energy demand from the perspective of household consumers' changing social practices”.

Yolande is also interested in the field of techno-feminism as a way to understand how people incorporate new devices and technologies into their everyday lives. “Techno-feminist scholars (like me) are interested in understanding and correcting some of the inequalities, biases and gender imbalances either designed into emerging technologies or associated with their usage and incorporation into everyday settings and practices. More specifically, we're interested in rethinking technologies in ways that better serve feminist objectives and outcomes. One of the critiques of the smart home is that many of the devices and technologies have been designed for and are of more interest to men (broadly speaking). We have been investigating how smart home technologies are changing the types of labour performed in the home, particularly the rise of 'digital housekeeping', which is most commonly performed by men. And we are asking ourselves what a smart home that better serves women might look like. We have a paper coming out in CHI 2019 this year which is precisely about this point; ‘Protection, Productivity and Pleasure in the Smart Home: Emerging Expectations and Gendered Insights from Australian Early Adopters’ by Yolande Strengers, Jenny Kennedy, Larissa Nicholls, Paula Arcari, Mel Gregg. It won a best paper award. It was a collaboration between RMIT, Monash researchers and Intel Corporation”.

Yolande and her colleagues have also investigated the changing practices of pet care and entertainment in Australian homes and their implications for energy demand, particularly the difficulties that low-income households could face when living in poor quality and thermally inefficient homes. “While the question of how people will use energy for their pets in the future is impossible to know, evidence suggests that pet care will increasingly involve more technology and energy demand. Australia has one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world (62%). Studies have found that a growing number of people in Australia leave energy technologies on for their pets (heating or cooling daily demand). If this trend continues it has potentially important implications for energy demand forecasting and smart technology innovations”.

In 2019, Yolande wants to see more leadership on energy issues and stronger household engagement. “We are releasing a report on engaging household towards the Future Grid in June as part of a project funded by Energy Consumers Australia.”

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