The Visible Energy Trial

In 2006 there was very little knowledge about how to make energy visible – or about how you and I would react to it, some consumer research was in order, that’s where the Visible Energy Trial begins.

How it all started

Thanks to the brilliant East of England Development Agency (EEDA) Proof of Concept funding we carried out £40,000 of focus group activity and online surveys. Built around our initial concept designs and conducted by Basis Research, a specialist London consumer research agency, this was a fantastic starting point. The feedback was very encouraging – the best they had ever seen for a new product – which laid the foundation for winning an EEDA R&D grant.

Conducting the Visible Energy Trial

Encouraged by this, it was time to design our initial product. The challenge was getting the right balance between cost and functionality: too simple and engagement would be short lived, too complex and it may never get going. This was the inspiration behind the Visible Energy Trial – we needed to find out what we could take to market.

This time we were backed by both Carbon Connections and, later on, by British Gas as part of the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) innovation funding. This enabled us to build a comprehensive system but with three product levels – simple, intermediate and advanced. The Solo, Duet, and Trio.

Put to the test

We tested out the three systems each with 75 homes and 50 homes as a control group with no user feedback. The trial lasted over a year and was analysed by the University of East Anglia (UEA).

1. The Solo showed whole house electricity on a very simple and clear In-Home Display (IHD)

2. The Duet added 6 smart plugs and monitoring of heating performance with a second IHD

3. The Trio provided an early tablet representation with detailed granularity, analysis and full graphical data presentation

What we learnt

Quite a lot – most of which was very encouraging!

  1. 1. Good displays work: after a year only 11% of users no longer wanted their display
  2. 2. The more people are shown, the more they want to see
  3. 3. But there is a learning curve – too much too soon can have the opposite effect…
  4. 4. Over 35% of participants bought low energy appliances

So, which display came out on top?

The Solo continues to be one of our best-selling displays.

The Duet was well-liked but was too expensive.

The Trio set new standards – but this was before broadband, smartphones etc!

The full value

Only now, as the price of technology comes down, is the full system a viable consumer product. However, whilst information about individual appliance consumption is interesting, it is not enough – users either want to control the unit or to automate it. Thus dis-aggregation on its own is of limited value.

Understand | Control | Automate

What we have learnt over the years is that consumers often follow a pattern:

  1. 1. First they need to see and understand what they are using
  2. 2. Then they want to control appliances
  3. 3. And quite quickly afterwards they want to automate these controls

In simple terms, users want the problem taken away from them – but they first want to understand and play in order to see the value.

Take the first step to learning more about energy use with one of our energy monitors.