From ‘Energy Monitoring’ to ‘Real-Time energy feedback’

What We’re Working On, #1

Today we’re starting a new (English) blog series called ‘What we’re working on’. Since we are developing multiple products and services at Aurum, and innovation is key in our daily work, it might be fun to share more. There’s so much happening in the energy and IoT space that no day is the same for the Aurum team. Enjoy!

From ‘Energy Monitoring’ to ‘Real-Time energy feedback’

Developing a new energy app

 

interface sketches

In 2016 we started a pilot project with a large consumer organisation. A small group of customers was selected to test the Aurum app. Our partner closely monitored the behaviour of this test panel. Were they indeed able to install the Aurum sensors themselves? How often were they using the app? Were they able to lower their energy wastage? After a succesful pilot, the management of the consumer organisation decided to give the green light. Together we will release a new energy service, based on the Aurum hardware and data backend.

The past weeks we’ve been working hard on developing a new energy interface for consumers. Together with our partner we are aiming to deliver the most user-friendly energy app in the market.

 

 

Our philosophy for the new app design:

We have done plenty of desk and field research on how consumers interact with energy. Or, maybe better, how they don’t interact with energy. The following premises formed the basis for the new app:

 

  • saving energy isn’t fun. Let’s not pretend we can make it fun. Instead, let’s make it easy and enticing by visualising the gains. We will show people how much money they can save if they cut down energy wastage in their home.
  • real-time and dynamic visuals of electricity and gas consumption should have a prime spot in the app. If people want to see overviews of their gas usage of, let’s say, the past year, they can find it in the deeper layers of the interface. The homescreen should focus on what’s happening now, in your home. That is what matters most.
  • and…let’s cut down on graphs and be wary for data-overload. Allmost all of the current energy apps are made up of bar graphs. And they are a logical visual element. If your goal is to display certain amounts and how they relate to each other, a bar graph does the job. If you want to show a user that between 2 and 3 pm three times the electricity was used compared to 3 and 4 pm, a bar graph will show you quickly. But are bar graphs easy to read to users that have a dislike of statistics and math? Not really… The target audience for this specific app are the non-technical consumers that normally don’t pay attention to their energy spendings.

 

Discussing possible energy visualisations

 

Build  –  Test  –  Improve

We kicked off the app development in June. A scrum team was formed with our partner, the client for this project, as product owner, two front-end developers from our friends at Brightin, a UX designer, an energy expert, a usability tester and backend developers. The app was to be build in an agile method. That meant: continuously building, testing and improving. We still had the test panel at our disposal which we used in order to get feedback on interface designs and navigation. After a one-week design sprint with the entire front-end development team we quickly had a prototype to test.

We learned so much from testing the app with real users. For example, our assumption that people are drawn to realtime, dynamic energy visualizations instead of historical data proved right. Users don’t even have to leave the home screen to see how much energy is spent in their home. This keeps the app alive, and, in contrast to numbers and graphs of kWh’s, is interesting for the non-technical user.

The app can give you predictions on what your energy bill will look like at the end of your contract term. In order to get the predictions right, we need our users to enter some data about themselves. This can be easy info, such as their house type and the year it was built. If you design these questions in the right way, people do not experience them as annoying but as attentive and kind. Using icons and informal language helped us improve completion rates.

 

Fuzzy energy contracts (@energy suppliers, you can do better here!!)

However, getting your users to fill in some details from their energy contract is not easy. First, you need to make people aware that whatever the app asks them to fill in is aimed to help them. Second, most people have difficulties understanding their energy bills and contracts. And no wonder, because every Dutch energy supplier is using different information models on their contracts. There are large differences between how energy suppliers communicate their tariffs. We had more than 30 sessions sitting next to users with their printed energy contracts to see if they completed the app flow. It was essential that we’d get it right, because giving users an alert that their contract is expiring is very valuable. It will save them a lot of money if they switch to a new contract on time. Also, it will allow the app to give users accurate predictions on their future energy bills.

 

testing the end-product with real customers in their home

 

Another prominent feature in the new app will be the baseload checker. We developed an algorithm that detects the standard minimal consumption of your house. For some test users, their baseload was over 350watt. That means that when you think that you turned all your devices off, you’re still spending about €2 per night (€600 a year). People can save hundreds of euros by lowering their baseload. The baseload checker gives an indication if your baseload is healthy or too high, and how much this is costing you on a yearly basis. If you do have a relatively high baseload, the app will guide you to cut down the energy waste.

All of the above is aimed towards giving consumers direct energy feedback. Aurum believes that people are way too busy living their lives to care about constantly monitor their energy. That’s why we’ve focused on displaying only the data that is relevant for that specific user. Secondly, we’ve minimalized complex graphs and prioritized messaging instead.

We are proud to be working with our partners on this exciting project. Launch date is coming soon – we will keep you posted. 

Daily standup at the Brightin office in Utrecht