Following a decision by the UK Government to include the provision of an In Home Display (IHD) into the scope of the Carbon Emission Reduction Target (CERT) scheme, a UK obligation on energy retailers to provide energy reducing equipment to householders, BG and GEO came up with a concept of a simple display which could be provided at low cost and which could be given away to homeowner for self-fitment.
BG’s requirements were that this could monitor whole house electricity consumption and could be fitted and set up in under 10 minutes, and could be posted to householders using normal mail. Following agreement on volumes and pricing, GEO undertook the design and agreed to have product in stock in the UK within a 6 month period from contract signing.
The design was based around the successful speedometer and odometer concept pioneered in earlier GEO designs, which has been created to give users a simple and intuitive display in monochrome for low cost. A current transformer which clipped very simply and quickly round the tail of the meter cable meant users could install the device themselves. Tariffs were entered by the user and allowed for both high cost day rates and cheap rate night time electricity with ease. Powered by three AA batteries, the efficient transmitter radio design meant that batteries lasted for two years or more, an obvious requirement for long service life.
Delivery of the first batches of Minim units flowed into BG’s warehouse on programme, and the initial response to the product was so good that the product was introduced as a core part of the BG Energy Smart proposition, gaining BG hundreds of thousands of new customers. The production line has run for over two years producing over 500,000 Minim units, making it one of the highest volume In Home Displays introduced into the market. This was achieved using production facilities approved to the quality, environmental and demanding CSR policies of the customer.
Sweden was one of the first countries to complete its smart meter roll out in Europe, with new electricity meters installed in almost all homes by 2010. Unfortunately, the early adopter approach meant that some of the valuable consumer benefits of smart metering did not form part of the roll out. In particular, the support for an In Home Displays was absent, as no wireless transmit capability was installed in the meters.
As a large number of Swedish homes are heated by electrically powered heat pumps, many households have exceptionally high consumption, in a country where electricity is among the most expensive in Europe.
As Fortum, a major energy producer and retailer across the Nordic countries, wished to introduce an in home display to sell to its customers, GEO was asked to develop a system that could be retrofit to the Swedish smart meters, and which would be 99% accurate. The solution was to develop a special transmitter for GEO’s pioneering Solo display which counts the pulses emitted from the indicator light on the front of the meter. This produces an accurate reading which reflects precisely the meter reading used for preparing the electricity bill, and which updates the display every 2 seconds to give householders a real time feedback.
Another complication in Scandinavia in general is that meters are often located outdoors, meaning that any sensors attached to the meter have to be able to cope with freezing conditions. GEO’s solution incorporates a weatherproof enclosure that protects the transmitter even in the hostile conditions of a Nordic winter.
To complement the real time display and provide a way of comparing days, weeks and years consumption against a household budget, GEO created a website for Fortum customers where the data from their Solo display can be downloaded and analysed with the benefit of a large computer screen. The web interface uses a simple and clever magnifying window to zoom into the detail of individual weeks or days.
Sales of the Solo have continued to exceed expectations since launch, such that Fortum has extended the programme to Finland and Norway as well.