The changing energy market is opening up opportunities for agile new entrants with innovative products and services aimed at increasingly digitally connected and technology savvy consumers.
One such company, UK-based Flow Energy, sees considerable potential in the local smart home market and has started to trial a range of products ahead of a year end launch.
“The smart home is becoming a reality and we want to be positioned for the changing customer expectations,” Flow Energy MD Andrew Beasley told Engerati in an exclusive interview. “Estimates put the current take-up of smart home products at less than 1 in 10 and mostly by the most technologically aware, but within two to three years around 7 in 10 households in UK are expected to have some form of smart home technology.”
The Flow Boiler
Under the previous name Energetix, the company was involved in the design of energy-related equipment. This effort resulted in the development of an innovative micro-combined heat and power (CHP) boiler – the Flow Boiler – based on the Organic Rankine cycle which not only provides heating but also electricity, and at a price that is cost-effective for residential use.
The company then decided that rather than sell the boiler outright it could be offered as part of an energy services proposition, with potential for a feed-in tariff and savings from the avoided costs of the traditional energy supply to allow the customer access to this technology without a capital outlay. As a means to achieve this the group set up a licenced UK energy supplier.
“We wanted to find an innovative way to make the product available to the consumer without the need for high upfront expenditure and with our model, which is based on a rebate scheme, the owner is able to achieve a no-cost ownership in 5 years,” says Mr Beasley, pointing to a parallel with how many consumers acquire their smartphones.
The smart home proposition
Once in the market, Flow looked to grow, with the smart energy and home automation areas seen as a natural extension. With an introduction to the Belgian smart home player Fifthplay from a mutual supplier, the match was made.
Fifthplay is a major innovator and trendsetter in the field of smart homes, providing end to end solutions. Fifthplay was founded in 2008 under the wings of Niko Group with a clear mandate to devise and implement innovative solutions in the context of the “smart building”.
Flow has selected four different smart home packages, which are being trialled with around 120 customers. These are a smart thermostat, smart plugs and smart electricity and smart gas monitoring and all are supplied with the fifthplay gateway. These packages come with a rebranded Flow Home portal and app.
Smart home packages
“We wanted to look at what packages and what elements of them are most attractive to consumers,” says Mr Beasley. He adds that as winter is approaching with the need for heating, the smart thermostat is proving popular and feedback is being gathered on how the device is being utilized.
Like for the Flow Boiler, innovative finance options are also being considered and it is likely that with the launch of the smart home packages in the new year, these will come with a rental option. The packages themselves will also be from an e-shop, which is under development.
“These are new ways of approaching the market, for which we have high expectations,” says Frédéric Haghebaert, Partner Manager at Fifthplay.
With the launch, a social energy app will also be launched in which users can view their energy consumption and with gamification, play comparisons with neighbours, friends or family.
Smart home journey
Mr Beasley says that Flow’s proposition for the smart home products is based on “comfort and convenience” as it is believed to be of greater value to consumers than only energy savings that may result.
He envisions that it will be a growing system as owners’ demands grow. “We see the smart thermostat as a possible start in the winter season. Other devices, such as smart plugs, can be added later as the owner finds more use for them. Then in the future we might be able to add other devices like smoke alarms and motion detectors.”
Mr Haghebaert says that Fifthplay supports multiple protocols and is constantly adding new devices to its platform. “We have just added a smart radiator valve and next year we plan to add a self-learning functionality that for example would learn the behaviour of a resident and optimize the heating settings,” he says. Consideration is also being given to integrating certain smart meter functionalities, he adds.
Data intelligence potential
Looking further ahead, he says that with 15-minute data from thousands of plugs, Fifthplay is also looking at the potential for data intelligence. “For example we can identify certain appliances and if say someone was to leave open a freezer door that could be identified and an alert sent to that person or irregular behaviours could be detected. We could also benchmark appliances and could advise a user if they could benefit by acquiring a more energy efficient model, or we could switch on and off lights to simulate a presence when the homeowner is away on holiday.”
“The important point is that the system can be customized and adapted with lifestyle changes, and if there is a business case for new devices and products we will integrate them.”
Meet Fifthplay and Flow Energy and their solutions at European Utility Week 2015.