Geo started with research. Courtesy of a Proof Of Commercial Concept grant from the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), we conducted detailed, independent market research into consumer energy displays.
It was the best start we could have had – and an excellent service from the now disbanded EEDA. It showed that:
- Consumers are very interested in seeing their energy consumption
- They want “at a glance” information – but they want the detail too
- Numbers won’t do on their own – consumers need context – help to make sense of the figures.
Encouraged, we went on to develop our own displays, but we weren’t sure about just what consumers wanted. It was a bit like the washing machine syndrome – we know that people will only use one or two of the many programmes offered – but which two?
In 2009 we therefore ran our own field trial with three different displays: a basic, intermediate and an advanced display. It was conducted over a year in 275 homes across East Anglia and we carried out both qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys and analyses. It showed that:
- Too much information too soon can scare people off – basic is a good starting point
- However, the more information people have, the more they want: 38% of basic users wanted to upgrade, 47% of intermediate users and 71% of advanced users wanted to add more functionality.
- Only 11% of respondents did not wish to continue to have a display and approximately half of these reverted to old habits.
- At the end of the trial just less than 50% of respondents were using their display as much or more than when they first received it. It appeared that the displays had been absorbed into the general routine of the house were used to remind people of their energy usage and alert them to issues rather than be the centre of attention.
- Possibly the most important result was that approximately 70% of users reported an increase in their confidence to engage with energy matters. This is a key leading measure as people will not engage with the market and take energy management seriously if they are not confident in their own knowledge.
Now, as a norm, we conduct sometimes extensive consumer research into each one of our displays to refine what works with users. It is clear that the following are important, if not vital, to user engagement:
- Simplicity and clarity
- Backlight and colour
- Context and meaning – not just raw data
In 2011, sponsored by the Technology Strategy Board and along with ScottishPower we conducted an extensive smart metering smart home trial looking primarily at heating. Project Volcan was conducted in just under 1,000 homes with 4 different installations: two were consumer installed and two included OnStream electricity and gas smart meters. In particular we looked at how to engage users and help them to understand their heating using temperatures, heating controls and feedback from their smart meters.
Again, we conducted qual and quant research and a considerable amount behavioural learning and design feedback as well as of practical knowledge was obtained from the trial.
- The units were perceived to be innovative offering key benefits and t he overall experience was rated as positive by over two thirds of each of the sample cells
- Positive impacts were quickly noted to stem from a sense of increased control over household energy consumption, with use of the system prompting consideration of a wide range of actions intended to increase energy efficiency and thus, cost saving.
- The website and phone applications delivered on-going value beyond simple monitoring via the display.
The research underlined the importance of integrating the functionality and experience delivered by in-home, mobile and on-line displays. It became clear that it is not a question of one medium is better than the other but that the combination of two or three leverages engagement. It has generated our perspective of “see l explore l analyse” and helped us to refine the functionality of each of our three mediums: our IHDs, our mobile applications and our online services.
2012 sees us continuing our market and consumer research. We have also launched our “Trial in a Box” concept so that customers can exploit our extensive knowledge in this field and very simply do some market testing to gather data in support of their business cases for consumer engagement.
Other research reports which might interest you:
Global Energy Think Tank, Empower Demand by VaasaETT on behalf of ESMIG, 2011: VaasaETT’s Empower Demand study aimed to discover the potential and limitations of a range of feedback and dynamic pricing programs enabled through smart metering technologies and to gauge repeated results and surrounding requirements success. The findings and conclusions are based on 100 pilots.
Energy Saving Trust, 2010, The smart way to display. A summary report on consumer preferences for energy display designs.