Head of connected home at EDF Energy Blue Lab, John Hutchins, is excited about developments in his area of the energy company’s innovation centre. During a presentation hosted by the Sussex Innovation Centre in Croydon, part of the University of Sussex, Hutchins explained how he and his team are working to create valuable services for its customers using data from connected home devices so that they can save energy and money through data-driven insights. Blue Lab has already produced some results.
In September 2016, EDF announced that Blue Lab had developed a “skill” for Amazon’s Alexa voice service which allows customers to control their energy accounts. They can check their account balance and next payment date, submit meter readings and find out when their tariff is due to end. He also stated that Blue Lab has its own smart thermostat, HeatSmart, to compete with the more familiar Nest and Hive.
“With our connected home, we want to use real-time data to explain energy consumption and costs and allow consumers to budget and manage their energy use in a way and a time that suits them,” he said. He hopes that, in the future, EDF will be able to tell people whether they are being efficient with their use of energy and make suggestions, such as telling them that perhaps they have left the television on for too long or that they should consider switching off their computer.
He added that, ideally, HeatSmart will be able to give customers a read-out that could tell them, for example, that of a £60 energy bill, £10 of was due to using the shower and another £10 was down to the fridge. “We want to bring some sort of context to people’s energy use and the smart meter is a big enabler because it starts being a data flow, rather than someone having to go round and read a meter,” said Hutchins.
The government wants energy companies to take every reasonable step to install a smart meter in all 26 million homes in the UK by 2020, a scheme estimated to cost £11 billion - EDF Energy has been steadily installing smart meters area by area. Hutchins is clear that data about energy use would belong to the customer and the utility company would need their permission to do anything with it.
“When we install a smart meter, legally we can take monthly reads, but to go down to the daily or hourly level we have to ask their permission. Then they can confer ownership or the ability to do something with that data to us,” he explained. He did admit, though, that he and his team are working on what to do with the final level data they are receiving. One idea is to understand the routines of EDF customers through their energy use and, thus, to be able to alert them if there is a dramatic change in that usage.
Hutchins and his team are also developing smart tools for EDF’s business customers. One is a remote auditing technology that can tell businesses like hotels if their air conditioning is less efficient than similar hotels nearby. Hutchins said: “If people don’t have sophisticated metering, we can install equipment that measures the energy on each of their different sub-circuits so they can see exactly what’s using their energy and where.”
Highlighting the traditional stability of his industry and the innovations that have already emerged from Blue Lab and those that have yet materialise, he said that utilities have a long future ahead, provided they become more useful and helpful to customers. After all, their role is pretty much unavoidable. “There’s death, taxes and utilities,” concluded Hutchins.