Welcome to the first instalment of our Opportunities & Challenges In The Energy Sector 2023 series. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing emerging trends from across the energy sector in areas such as home and personal life; business and professional services; travel and transport; climate and environment; and connectivity and devices, before wrapping up the series by looking to the future of the energy sector and changes to the workforce.
When we think of energy-saving and cost-saving measures, it’s common to consider physical, offline actions such as adding insulation around our homes, avoiding peak energy hours (between 8am and 10pm), reducing hot water use, or even putting on a jumper. However, in recent years, many people have looked to technology to help them manage their bills, reduce energy consumption in their homes, and even generate their own clean energy.
Last year, the UK Government reported a total of 3.8 million new smart meters had been installed in 2021 – a seven percentage point increase compared to the previous year. Smart meters have helped paved the way for more advanced technology over the years as while they can help track energy usage more accurately, popular household devices such as the Google Nest, Bosch Connected Control Thermostat, and Hive Home use machine learning and artificial intelligence to understand your personal habits and tailor energy use to your needs. For example, using the Google Nest Learning Thermostat you can save between 10-15% on your energy as it allows you to set a heating and cooling schedule to ensure your home is the right temperature for when you get up in the morning to go to work; automatically switch off your heating when you leave the front door; and lots more. Many smart devices will also measure how your usage changes over time and can send you updates and reports – Google gamifies this experience by rewarding low energy use with “Leafs” and letting you see how your usage compares to that of other Nest owners. This is an approach we often see and use in development as it subtly challenges users to take action, whilst playing into (and rewarding) our natural competitive tendencies.
Alongside this, the introduction of smart bulbs and smart plugs makes it possible to dim or adjust your lights from your phone, turn off plugs when they’re not in use, or remotely control other appliances to bring down energy use. This makes it easier for users to control their lights when they’re out (making it look like someone is home for security purposes for a few hours instead of keeping the lights on all the time), or making it more accessible for users with disabilities to control their lighting without the need for assistance. Many commercial buildings also use motion sensing technology to turn the lights and heating on when someone is using a room rather than all day, and while it may seem small, the use of this technology can substantially reduce energy waste.
Controlling appliances remotely also has monetary benefits: British Gas estimates households waste upwards of £127 per year (based on prices in 2019) by leaving common devices on standby, including the TV, microwave, computer, and more. Currently, the cost of living crisis and fuel shortage means this cost is likely much higher for the average household, with many people not even realising how much energy their devices consume while idle and the long-term impact this can have on their bills.
However, it’s not just indoor devices that are helping consumers reduce their bills – outdoor smart technology such as solar panels from companies including Smartly and Solarwatt have made it easier to track and manage energy generation, storage, and consumption and supplement energy use from the grid with additional solar-generated electricity. Depending on your location and the time of year, solar panels can help alleviate a large percentage of annual bills and pay for themselves through savings after 1.6 years on average, helping put modern energy-saving technology in more homes across the UK. At present, around 4.1% of UK homes have solar panels installed (approximately 1.2 million residential buildings), and with solar panels now as much as 82% cheaper than they were a decade ago as well as being more powerful, this figure is predicted to rise in the coming years.
It’s currently estimated that over 6.7 million UK households are experiencing fuel poverty, with some projections suggesting that over 58.6% of the UK population may be in fuel poverty ahead of the removal of the Energy Price Guarantee in April 2023. (Editor’s note: as of 15th March 2023, it has been reported the Energy Price Guarantee will be extended to July. We will update this article as more information become available.) Trends also show the worst-affected households will be those with two or more children, as well as elderly couples. To help tackle this issue locally, NHS Tayside is working with Zudu to develop an interactive app called Warmth Matters, which is set for release later this year. The project is funded by Tayside Regional Improvement Collaborative (TRIC) and will help provide users in the Tayside area with easy access to services, grants, and information that could help them save money on their bills. As users journey through the app, they can collect badges, discover key contacts, and learn new tips by completing different levels. By using a gamified approach to education, the app is designed to engage a broader range of audiences as well as guide users step-by-step towards achieving improved fuel economy and building better habits over time.
Apps are making it easier than ever to manage the world around us, from personal and social, to work and education – and the energy sector is taking notice. Many energy companies are now using apps to help keep their customers informed of upcoming bills, payments, and energy use history to help improve transparency and build client trust – for example, OVO Energy’s app allows clients to submit their meter readings and track usage throughout the year via their mobile phone. There are also a number of productivity apps on the market such as the Zudu-supported app, Maison, which helps users keep track of their tariff renewal dates and makes it easier to know when to start shopping around for better deals (which can help you save as much as £500 per year!). Alongside this, banking and finance companies such as Monzo are also helping their clients manage their money more efficiently in order to reduce late payment fees. Unlike a direct debit, the “pots” feature on Monzo automatically takes out a set amount of money from a main account each month and places it in a virtual piggy bank that is exclusively for bills, giving users peace of mind knowing their bills will always be paid on time and letting them see how much money they have left over to reduce accidental overspending.
Find out more about how technology is changing energy habits throughout our article series, or contact our team to start your project.
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