The connected home
Nina Bhatia, commercial director for British Gas, looks at how
technology is helping people take control of every aspect of their homes.
Last summer I experienced the common frustration of my boiler
breaking down and having to get it repaired. But wouldn’t it have been
much easier if the boiler could have alerted me to the problem before it broke down? In fact, modern boilers are equipped with more than 50
sensors gathering data about the boiler’s function – and British Gas is
working with boiler manufacturers to find ways to use that data to
inform householders before disaster strikes.
Boilers breaking down are one problem. But there are lots of ways in
which people would like to have more control over their homes. If you’re
a typical British home, for example, there’s a good chance that you
turn your heating on in October and leave it on until May. You may even
leave your hot water switched on all the time, just because it’s easier
than setting a timer to switch it off at regular intervals. But doing
this costs money – and that’s before you factor in the occasions we
leave our televisions on standby, forget to switch lights off or set
tumble dryers to run when it’s sunny outside. It’s no surprise that the
average household wastes up to £150 a year, just on heating their homes
when they don’t need to.
Instead of leaving heating or hot water switched on for long periods
of time, many people are taking the opportunity to control their energy
consumption through their smartphone. British Gas’s Hive Active Heating
product includes a wireless thermostat, a hub plugged into your wireless
router, and a small receiver that mean your boiler and thermostat can
communicate with each other, and a smartphone app that enables you to
turn the heating or hot water on or off. It even shows you the
temperature in your home, so you can turn it up or down.
We’ve found that Hive has transformed the way customers use their
heating and hot water. From never adjusting it at all, more than 50
percent use it at least once a day. People have told us that they love
the level of control it gives them. If they discover they’re going to be
out late, for example, they can turn their heating off remotely. The
app also makes it easy to change the timer settings, so you can make
sure the heating comes on half an hour before the children arrive home
from school, for example. As well as using it outside the home, many are
using the Hive smartphone app when they’re at home. In fact, 67% of
customers use the product from the sofa – it’s the new remote control of
the home. I admit to using it from my bed on a cold morning!
We’re really excited about the opportunities for Hive customers.
Independent research, commissioned by British Gas and conducted by world
leading engineers Buro Happold, found the default setting for Hive –
which is set unless and until someone chooses to change it – consumes
26-29% less energy than an ‘On All Day’ baseline. Hive Active Heating
might be known for saving you money when plans change, yet this research
shows that even the default schedule can help people to reduce energy
consumption right from the start.
Other customers are controlling their energy use through smart
meters. Smart meters come with a smart energy monitor that lets you see
exactly how much energy you’re using in near-real time. A red, amber and
green traffic light system shows how much you’re using – a red light
can signal the need to be more careful about energy use. Smart meters
collect data about how much energy you’re using and send that directly
to your energy supplier, so they can send you completely accurate bills.
And you can also look at a Smart Energy Report online that breaks your
usage down further and even compares it to similar houses, so you can
see if you’re using more energy than is typical.
These technologies are just a hint of what might be possible in
future. Why not install sensors that let us know if someone’s in the
house while we’re out, for example – or use our smartphones to turn on
the lights remotely? Instead of feeling helpless about not being able to
control of what’s happening in our homes, we can finally take charge.