This is a guest post for Computer Weekly’s ‘circular technology economy’ series written by Pilgrim Beart.
Now the founder of DevicePilot, a software platform for monitoring, managing and automating connected devices, to help smart energy companies improve the quality of their services… Beart traces his smart energy pedigree back to Hive, the UK home heating control system.
Pilgrim Beart sold his company, AlertMe, to British Gas for US$100m in 2015, which later became Hive. Today, Beart is helping smart energy and IoT businesses manage the technical issues and pitfalls he experienced with AlertMe, with his new company DevicePilot.
Beart writes as follows…
A frequently overlooked aspect of the renewable energy transition is the fact that energy is becoming a lot smarter, as well as greener.
This is vitally important because smarter home energy applications and a smarter grid will have profound benefits for consumers and industry alike.
Smart energy products connected to the Internet and communicating effectively will help prevent energy shortages, make energy cheaper for consumers, encourage people to switch to renewables faster and make renewables more consistent and user-friendly.
People know Hive, Tesla and Octopus Energy, but they are just the tip of the smart energy iceberg.
Underpinning them is an ecosystem of digital solutions that frequently go unnoticed, even among tech circles.
It’s high time we shone a light on them and their importance… so who are these smart energy companies?
A 3-part smart ecosystem
You can divide the smart energy ecosystem into three parts.
First and foremost, there are the clean energy sources that are central to meeting net-zero targets. There is no green energy revolution without the emergence of solar, wind, biomass etc. and companies like Octopus Energy [a British renewable energy group] are bringing them into homes.
Number two is the growing array of consumer-focused applications, products and services. These applications are how individuals engage with net zero on a day-to-day basis – they include electric vehicles, smart meters and heat pumps.
Thirdly (last but by no means least) there are the smart energy enablers that help consumers/manufacturers realise the benefits of Internet-connected utilities – like Origami and Jumptech. SaaS platforms, data analytics and automation are keystone technologies for making energy sources and consumer applications work as they should. Without them, a renewable-centric grid would not function, devices would not communicate, and they would not serve their customers properly.
This third group are the unsung heroes are helping smart energy companies optimise their services, improve customer support, lower bills and improve reliability. They also help keep the lights on, quite literally.
As the UK transitions to renewables, the grid must also be more intelligent. It needs to be able to predict energy usage more accurately, mitigate shortages, store excess energy and share loads across the grid to wherever it is needed.
Smart energy enablers
So let’s look at how smart energy enablers are improving the customer experience.
Once a device is connected to the Internet, whether it’s a thermostat or a car, it can immediately do more than its dumb counterparts. Its data informs energy providers and device manufacturers in near real-time, to help them improve their services and serve customers better. Smart products also provide a better experience for consumers, since they offer extra convenience and functionality – being able to control your heating from your smartphone is a great example.
Smart energy companies use an array of tech providers to capitalise on the opportunities presented by their newfound connectivity. For instance, enabling energy-hungry devices like electric vehicles (EVs) to act as batteries for the grid.
However, this extra data and Internet connectivity also creates extra challenges. For example, as more people adopt smart energy products, there is more data to analyse and there are more things that can go wrong. These devices must be updated, secured, fixed. That is why there is a growing use case for SaaS businesses that can help smart energy companies monitor, maintain, and optimise their estate of smart products.
For instance, gas companies would get a rush of customer complaints and callouts every winter when people turn on their heating for the first time.
Smart meters are more likely to identify a problem before the cold weather hits and could even encourage customers to fix it themselves with a reset. That resolves the issue faster, offers a better experience for the customer and cuts the gas companies’ support costs. This paradigm becomes even more important for smart energy companies as they scale from thousands to millions of connected devices.
The market of smart energy enablers is a fast-moving and exciting sector. It is far bigger than the household names in sustainable tech and it is solving challenges most people don’t even realise exist.