Monday, 21 December 2009

How are you doing?

Recently AlertMe launched the Swingometer - an online device which shows a live display of how well the UK is doing at reducing its energy consumption. Today, we're pleased to announce that all AlertMe Energy customers can now view their own personal swingometer in the AlertMe user interface.

Your individual swingometer will show you how well you’re doing at reducing your personal energy consumption in the past 24 hours compared with your past behaviour. So if you've used a lot less energy recently than past experience suggests, the swingometer will swing into the green, and if you've used a lot more, it'll be in the red. Your swingometer is just for you and we’ll keep all your information private, but if you’d like to share it with friends and show them how you’re doing at reducing your carbon footprint and your energy bills then that’s great too. You can publish your personal swingometer anywhere you want, share the link on Twitter, post it on Facebook, send it around in an email or even embed it on your personal blog or website.

If you're an AlertMe Energy customer simply login to view the swingometer on your AlertMe home page. If you're an AlertMe security customer and have bought a meter reader, you'll be able to see your swingometer by going into the energy records page.

We believe in providing you, our customers, with as many ways as possible to visualise (and thus, hopefully, understand and reduce) your usage of energy. The swingometer is just one more way to help you do this. We’ve kept it really simple so we hope that anyone, even your kids, can begin to understand how their TV watching or kettle boiling can affect your energy bills and our environment.

We’re sure you can think of many cool and innovative ways to use the Swingometer and we’re looking forward to hearing your ideas.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

DECC Smart Meter consultation - Part II

Back in August we blogged our response to DECC's White Paper on Smart Meters. Now DECC has collected all the responses and published an update here.

The good news is that DECC agrees that it's vital that Smart Meters have a connection to an in-home network - not just to an in-home display but to other devices too. What we need next is clarity on the physical communications standard that will be chosen for that connection, so that the market can gear-up to deliver devices and services which connect to it. There are many contenders, but it's important that the government choose one (any one!) so that everyone can design around it - otherwise the uncertainty and diversity will act against consumer choice.

Friday, 11 December 2009


Almost 18% of Britons work from home, which is presumably a good thing for the environment. That means 5 million less people travelling to workplaces. Surely that must be less carbon-intensive. But how do we know how much energy home workers are using? And who’s keeping track of their carbon footprint?

Recently we announced that we’re joining forces with AMEE to make it easier for companies to track the carbon footprint of their home workers. This will make life a lot easier for UK corporations that will need to track their entire carbon footprint in order to comply with the UK's CRC Energy Efficiency scheme which is due to begin in April 2010.

The Carbon Tracker service we’re introducing allows home-workers to use the AlertMe system to track their energy usage. AMEE convert the information about how much energy has been used into an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. The CO2 information is provided to the home-workers’ company where it can be used to create reports on the company’s entire carbon footprint to comply with legislation such as the UK's Carbon Reduction Commitment.

We’re now looking for pilot customers for this innovative new service. If you’d like to be part of this pilot and find out how much carbon your home workers are using please contact us by email at

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Energy on Display

This morning the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) published its response to a consultation initiated earlier this year on smart metering. The response is based on comment from over 270 organisations (including AlertMe), and we’re delighted to see that the Government have firmed up their position on a number of key areas.
  • First, they have confirmed their view that the communication network (between smart meters and the rest of the world) should be centralised.

  • They stress the importance of data security, a subject we’re passionate about.

  • Also it’s great to see that DECC is recognising the importance of promoting local community engagement in the roll-out of smart meters.

The role of the consumer in combating climate change cannot be underestimated. If the UK is to achieve its targets for reducing CO2 emissions, we all have a part to play. We as individuals account for around 40% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, and a large chunk of that is due to our use of energy in the home. With the old-fashioned meters that almost all UK houses currently have, it's very difficult for people to understand where they're using energy, making it hard to take confident steps towards reducing their energy usage and their carbon footprint. Giving consumers that information in a form that they can be easily understood and acted upon empowers them to do their part to help reduce the UK's carbon footprint. Without systems such as AlertMe Energy, or in the future smart meters connected to in-home displays, we're all just feeling our way in the dark.

Thankfully AlertMe Energy can allow even those with old-fashioned meters to view and reduce their energy usage (and the accompanying electricity bills of course) and their carbon footprint today. And of course in future we’ll be able to work directly with smart meters as they’re rolled out.

Of particular interest was the confirmation of the Government's position that smart meters should include a stand alone in-home display. At AlertMe, we take the view that the more ways consumers are given to visualise their energy usage, the better, and the in-home display is one of the most visible ways of achieving this. We’re always working on new ways for consumers to track their energy usage and monitor their progress in reducing their carbon footprint. And in keeping with this we’re already talking to existing providers of in-home displays about integration with AlertMe as well as crafting plans for the creation of an AlertMe display as part of our whole-home energy management system. Watch this space for more details.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Dow Jones, GreenBeat, ... and the final frontier!

I spent last week in Silicon Valley (where I lived for six years in the 90's), and spoke at a couple of conferences: Dow Jones and GreenBeat. But of course I was mainly there to listen, and I was seeking answers to:
1) Has the US woken-up to climate change?
2) Does the consumer really matter in the US?
...and it was exciting to see that the answer to both questions is an emphatic "yes!"

The likes of Intel and Cisco, and indeed the venture-capital community which created the Silicon Valley phenomenon, are now very strongly focussed on Energy, and see in it an opportunity on the same scale as the internet boom. Veteran investors John Doerr and Vinod Khosla both gave passionate speeches (as did Al Gore). When you look at the amount of money we pay for Energy (far more than any other household service) and the extremely primitive way it is managed, it's not surprising that people are viewing it as a big opportunity. Now I do recognise that Silicon Valley is not America, but it does create much of the future for America. So while I suspect that a lot of people outside of the West and East Coast still remain to understand the profound effects that climate change, energy security and peak oil (and our reactions to adapt) are about to have on their lives, it's great to see that in places like Silicon Valley it is now a hot topic.

And does the consumer matter? As a totally consumer-centric company this question is very important to AlertMe. We know that the consumer does matter in countries like the UK which have a deregulated energy industry, because utilities have to compete for the consumer's business, so they need to compete not just on pricing, but on the quality of the consumer experience, in order to attract and retain customers.
That's not the case in the majority of US states, where utilities are still regulated, meaning that the consumer has no choice of supplier, and everything from rates to services is determined by legislation in the form of the all-powerful PUC (Public Utilities Commissioner). Sounds a bit 1950's, doesn't it - and indeed it is. And so are some of the plans for energy management which sound almost Soviet - for example, Demand Response, where a utility can pull a lever to turn off appliances in your home when there is insufficient supply. This might sound great from a utility perspective, but it's going to be a hard sell to consumers. So I was delighted to see that many of the various panels and discussions did focus on the consumer, the conclusion being that if the consumer - and their in-home devices - aren't engaged in the process by offering them services which are positively attractive to them, then there's a real danger that industry initiatives such as Smart Meters won't achieve anything like the scale of change that is needed.

Speaking of scale, that's something that Ed Lu of Google mentioned a lot in his talk (he mentions AlertMe at around 8 minutes in). Scalability of information is something that telco's and companies like Google understand very well, but utilities now have to play catch-up, moving from a world where historically they took at most one reading a month per consumer, to one where real-time energy information (and control) flows in real-time. Personally I believe that the AMI networks that have been built today, and are still being planned and rolled-out, designed primarily around carrying 15-minute metering data, will be completely inadequate to carry us into our energy future. We already have an effective real-time information network (it's called the Internet) so let's use it!

Having done a press-release with Ed a few weeks back it was great to actually meet him and spend some time with him discussing what we're doing with Google Powermeter. Ed is an astronaut who's been into space three times, spent a lot of time on the ISS, and indeed rode the first Shuttle after the Columbia disaster - so a brave man and a thoroughly nice one too. So (cheesy though it was to ask) I just couldn't resist getting a picture taken to show my children "Daddy with the Astronaut"! Which kind of made my day.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

AlertMe Launch Party in Westminster

AlertMe+Google Powermeter hosted a great Launch party last night in Westminster. About 80 people came, including MP’s, people from DECC, Carbon Trust, BRE, journalists, academics, not-for-profits, utility companies ... and even an energy anthropologist!

Guest speakers were David MacKay (Chief Scientist of DECC) and Jens Redmer (Business Development Director for Google EMEA). Great anecdotes from both speakers, I think we all had a lot of fun (saving the world should be fun!) and you can find a full transcript of the excellent talks right here.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Your home in your hand

See what your home is doing in your hand with AlertMe Energy on your mobile phone. Now you can view and control the power consumption of your whole house on your trusty mobile, no matter where you are.

You can access your home’s energy data on any internet ready mobile phone by browsing to iPhone users can also see a graphical dial to show them exactly how much energy their home is using in a glance.

You can also see the consumption of individual appliances that are connected to Smart Plugs, see which appliances are on or off and even turn smart-plugs on and off directly from your mobile. Great when you’re away from home or on the move. Imagine you’re on your way home and in serious need of a coffee, just turn on the coffee-maker and your coffee could be ready the minute you walk in the door. It could also put an end to those return trips home to see if you left the iron on, simply pull out your mobile and check what’s on or off and if you have left the iron plugged in, just turn off the smart plug – easy!

Plus this also provides an easy way to walk around the house switching things on and off, to see exactly how much power different appliances consume and how much money you could be saving on your energy bills by making some simple changes and turning things off standby.

AlertMe Energy users can simply visit from any mobile phone to view their home’s energy usage optimised for mobile. If you’re not an existing user, find out more about how AlertMe Energy can keep you in touch with your home, wherever you are.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Introducing AlertMe Energy with Google and British Gas

Today we're pleased to announce the launch of AlertMe Energy, in partnership with Google and British Gas. AlertMe Energy allows you to monitor and control your home’s overall energy usage. It’s simple to use and install, providing an affordable way to keep track of your total electricity usage and make easy changes to save money and reduce your energy bills.

All you have to do is clip the AlertMe Meter Reader onto your electricity meter, and install the AlertMe hub. Your energy usage is then available on the AlertMe online dashboard so you always have access to up-to-the-minute information about your home's electricity usage from your mobile phone or internet browser.

We're really excited that AlertMe Energy is the first self-install device to work with Google PowerMeter to provide consumers with easy access to their energy data. This means that AlertMe Energy customers can keep an eye on their electricity usage directly from their iGoogle homepage, without logging into AlertMe, making it even simpler to monitor your electricity use and reduce your carbon footprint as well as your bills.

AlertMe Energy is available to buy right now from the AlertMe online store for just £69, plus a £2.99 monthly subscription. We’ve also teamed up with British Gas, and you can buy AlertMe Energy for just £99, including 12 months subscription for the price of 10, by calling 0800 1070187.

We’re really excited to be launching AlertMe Energy and we hope it’ll help you to save energy, save money and do your bit to help save the planet. Watch our videos on YouTube ( to find out more about how AlertMe Energy can help you to connect with your house and manage your energy, or see how you can make a difference to climate change with AlertMe.

To learn more about Google PowerMeter, visit

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

How to stop your electricity bill increasing

With all the talk about recession and the credit crunch it’d be nice to know that your energy bills weren’t going to soar in the future, but unfortunately that’s not the case. According to a recent report published by Ofgem, the UK’s energy regulator, on energy security (whether the current infrastructure can continue to reliably supply the energy we need) and what the costs to consumers will be, energy prices are set to soar by up to 60%.

The report looked at four scenarios in which economic recovery and environmental action could be either rapid or slow. In all four scenarios, demand for electricity rose slightly, and by 2020 consumer bills rose by 16% to 40%. However if the economy recovers more slowly and environmental action is also slow, consumer bills could peak at more than 60% above their current levels in 2017.

In other words, whatever happens it looks as though our electricity (and gas) bills will rise in the coming years. So what can you do?

Well the Ofgem report assumes that demand will remain more or less constant, and of course you can control how much electricity you use so if you reduce your home’s electricity usage by 16%-40% over the next 10 years then in 2020 your bill should be lower than it is today.

For most households, reducing electricity consumption by 40% is a tough challenge, but reducing consumption by 20% or even more should not be hard to achieve. A report by Sarah Darby for DEFRA found from a range of studies that consumers were able to reduce their consumption by between 5 and 15% simply by having feedback on how much electricity they were consuming. Another study, that provided consumers with more detailed feedback on their electricity usage achieved savings of up to 55%.

AlertMe Energy can help you reduce your energy usage and therefore help to save money on your energy bills. The system not only provides feedback on how much energy you're using, but also offers personalised advice and detailed analysis to help you understand exactly what you could do to keep your electricity bills down. Our plans for AlertMe Energy are ambitious, and as each new feature rolls out over the coming months, we expect our customers to see their electricity bills fall more and more. And the more you reduce your electricity usage, the less CO2 is being pumped into the atmosphere, so you can do your bit for the environment as well as your wallet.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Pilgrim in the Sunday Times

It was great to see AlertMe's founders in an article in yesterday's Sunday Times. It explains how customers can use AlertMe hardware and online services on their computer or mobile phone, to see exactly how much energy they are using — in pounds and pence, and then use this information to adjust the way they use their appliances. You can read the article here:

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Not so Scilly

The Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall, have an unusual property that made them perfect for an energy reduction experiment: they have just a single cable coming from the mainland that supplies all the electricity to the islands, having only been connected to the national grid in 1998. As a result, monitoring how much electricity the islands are using is relatively straightforward.

This led environmentalist Dr Matt Prescott to choose to use the islands in an experiment to see how far people could reduce their energy consumption. He created E-Day: a single day (October 6th, 2009) on which the people of the Scilly Islands would do their best to reduce their consumption of electricity.

After the event, the results seem rather underwhelming. The overall use of electricity by the islands was just 1.2% lower than expected. This can be partially explained by bad weather, but it does seem surprising that a concerted effort could not lead to a greater reduction.

In fact, however, there is more to it than this. One family, for example, managed to reduce their consumption (which was being separately measured) by a whopping 50.3%. What did they have that no-one else had? This family had a device measuring the consumption of their home, and a display so they could see how much they were consuming.

It's one thing to ask people to switch things off and save electricity, but if you provide them with direct feedback and a way to assess how much they're using and the impact of their actions, then they're much more likely to succeed. This is what AlertMe Energy is all about: empowering people with knowledge about the way they use electricity and giving them guidance about how to reduce it.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Tower of SmartPlugs!

There's something about seeing a large quantity of objects, all the same, which just works for me ... so I have to share this picture of 79 AlertMe SmartPlugs in a stack, part of some stress-test our engineers did a while ago.

Friday, 4 September 2009


One of AlertMe's main aims in the coming year is to help our customers reduce their energy consumption (and thus, the amount of money they spend on energy). We'll be doing this by monitoring electricity consumption, providing personalised feedback and advice and by providing smarter ways to control heating (by far the largest energy hog in most British homes).

It seems like a good idea for people to reduce how much energy they consume, and thus to reduce their carbon footprint. But what's a sensible target? One that seems to be gaining some popularity is the 10:10 campaign, which recommends aiming to cut our carbon footprints (individually as consumers and as businesses) by 10% during 2010.

Most of the targets that we hear about for emissions reductions have time-scales in decades, so setting a specific target for next year (and an ambitious one at that) is a great way to change it from an ethereal hard-to-grasp target into something we can all understand and start to work towards.

The campaign has received some amazing support recently, particularly as the entire cabinet signed up, not long after the entire Conservative front bench did the same.

As you might expect, AlertMe has signed up, and I'm now starting the process of figuring out what our carbon footprint is right now, and how we might reduce it next year. More importantly, we need to find ways to help you, our customers, to reduce your carbon footprints. So here's the deal, if you go along to the 10:10 site and sign up to the 10% reduction target we'll do our best to help you achieve it.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Watt is a pound a year?

We're exhorted to turn off unused devices in our house to reduce their standby consumption, and thereby reduce CO2 emissions from power stations. So it's tempting to ask what the cash benefit is, and the answer is surprisingly high. And there's an easy rule-of-thumb for working it out.

The amount that devices consume in standby varies widely. Older devices often didn't really have a standby mode - they just turned-off their front panel and pretended to be asleep, while still consuming a lot of energy. Evil! For example, one of the AlertMe crew discovered that his old black-and-white laser printer was consuming 60Watts, day and night, keeping the toner fuser warm. And hi-fi's, set-top-boxes etc. can easily consume 20Watts or more.
Even the latest gizmos can have a surprisingly high standby consumption. The colour laser printer I just bought, which has an Energy Star 2009 rating, consumes 17Watts in standby. And of course, it's not just the things on standby that matter - quite a lot of consumer devices are designed to be "left on" permanently, for example oil-filled electric heaters, which can be rated at up to 200Watts.

So what is a Watt, in money?

Well, thanks to a numerical co-incidence, at current electricity prices it turns out that every Watt left switched on for a year costs around £1.00.

So for example my new laser printer, if left switched-on for a year, would cost me £17. It makes little difference how much I actually use it, since the amount of use is tiny compared to the drip, drip, drip of the standby power, day and night, 24 hours a day.

The power rating of devices is usually to be found printed on the device, so for devices that are left plugged-in all the time, without a true standby mode, the number printed on the bottom corresponds to "pounds per year", as well as to Watts.

Festival of Interactive Technology

AlertMe attended the Festival of Interactive Technology in Cambridge yesterday. It's part of the HCI 2009 conference and was an opportunity for companies (mainly local ones) to show off their wares, with a particular emphasis on interactivity.

It was great to see how much interest the AlertMe stand attracted, and also to see some of the interesting (and often wacky) ways in which companies help people to interact with computers and the world. How was Alertme relevant to all this? Partly it's because AlertMe is all about enabling you to interact remotely with your home (controlling things, checking everything's ok, monitoring...) and partly also because as we extend our service and offer more enhanced ways of presenting useful data, it's important that we make our customers' interactive experience as positive and trouble-free as possible.

Our enjoyment of the event was not hindered by the rather excellent travelling Mexican restaurant right outside the front, of course...

Monday, 24 August 2009

Rebound to Utopia?

Making our homes more energy-efficient should reduce the amount of energy we use, right? That seems obvious... but it may not be as simple as it first appears.

In the late 18th Century, James Watt‘s new high-pressure steam engine delivered much more usable work from each ton of coal burned than had previously been possible—in others words it was more efficient.

In 1865, an economist named William Jevons noticed that Watt’s efficiency improvements, far from reducing the use of coal, had actually increased it dramatically. This seems counter-intuitive, but is largely due to economies of scale: as coal became a more efficient source of energy, its usefulness increased, so it was used more, so costs fell, in a loop which led to a massive increase in its use. In fact, Watt’s engines were so efficient that they were used not just to replace older coal-powered engines, but also clean sources of power such as water and wind.

This so-called rebound effect is a well-understood phenomenon in economics. If a resource becomes cheaper, its use increases. If the use increases sufficiently, it can cancel out any gains from the increase in efficiency.

Fast-forward now a hundred years or so, and three more economists, Harry Saunders, Leonard Brookes and Daniel Khazzoom, separately applied Jevons’ finding to the idea of increasing energy efficiency in order to reduce overall consumption. This culminated in 1992 with Saunders proposing what he called the Khazzoom-Brookes postulate: as the efficiency of the equipment used in industry and in the home increased, the overall consumption of energy would increase, rather than decrease, as energy became cheaper and more accessible.

This was observed in the 1970s when the oil crisis caused the automtive industry to find ways to make their vehicles more efficient. In spite of this increase in efficiency, overall consumption of oil by cars increased.

However, from the perspective of an individual household, real savings are possible. If you insulate your loft, you’ll reduce the amount of energy you use for heating. You’ll probably then spend the money you've saved on other goods and services which have an energy impact, but not as energy-intensive as burning fuel directly. So by improving efficiency in your home, you can reduce your own overall consumption and improve your quality of life at the same time. AlertMe is about making consumption more intelligent, and because households consume so much, a small amount of intelligence invested in control of this energy monster can reap large benefits.

The rebound effect is hard to predict. So what if our efforts to improve energy efficiency do backfire?

Bob Metcalfe, the creator of the Ethernet standard which connects all our computers to the internet, recently claimed that increased consumption won’t matter once energy becomes "cheap and clean".

He suggests an analogy with the early days of the internet when much attention was focused on making communication efficient, because bandwidth was so limited. But this didn’t prevent us increasing the amount of bandwidth we use: "We made bandwidth cheap and clean. And now we use a million times more." His argument is that once we’ve made our energy supplies cheap and clean, we can increase our use of it too. But is Metcalfe’s utopian vision of cheap, clean energy realistic? And how do we get there from here?

One way that governments could avoid the danger of a rebound effect is to impose a green tax, to counteract the gains from energy efficiency increases. So even though you consume less energy, you still end up paying the same, meaning that you don’t have money "left over" to spend on more energy consumption. This may well be inevitable: if there’s one thing that Governments are good at, it’s raising taxes.

Green taxes work in two ways. First, they make energy more expensive (which could be seen as just making the cost a truer reflection of the true cost to society of generating it, given the carbon production) and consumers will then react to this rise in cost by reducing their consumption, simply out of self-interest. Second, the money raised can then be ploughed into renewable energy production, taking us a little closer to Bob Metcalfe’s vision.

So where does this leave us? Should we bother to make our homes more efficient? Or will this end up increasing the amount of energy we consume? It seems clear that in the short-term, we consumers can improve our quality of life by spending less on energy, leaving us with more money to spend on other things. The rebound effect from this is likely to be small and the overall effect will almost certainly be a reduction in consumption overall. Then it’s up to governments to find ways to make sure that this reduction in consumption is used as a driver to increase the use of renewable energy sources. Perhaps Bob Metcalfe’s vision isn’t so unrealistic after all!

Monday, 10 August 2009

Sense and Sustainability

UK utility nPower recently sponsored the 2009 Energy Challenge, a student competition which sought answers to the question ‘What should a power generation company’s response be to climate change?’

First prize was won by a group of students from the MSC in Sustainable Energy Futures course under Professor Sandro Macchietto at Imperial College London The team did a fun presentation to government - and cited AlertMe as the ideal platform to use to bring their ideas to fruition.

Their idea is called Complete Energy Service Arrangements (CESA), and it sounds to me like a type of ESCO (Energy Services Company) . They describe it as follows: "Instead of selling kWhs like before, we enter into a contract with our customer. They pay a monthly flat rate. We assess properties for saving potential and make investments."

The video of the presentation is here (we're mentioned at 04:55) and the slide set is here (see notes on slide 6).

Monday, 3 August 2009

Response to DECC Smart Meter Consultation

The government recently published a paper about Smart Meters, and asked for responses. Here's ours:

An architecture which is open to consumers - and their agents

We believe that smart meters are an important part – but only a part – of our low carbon future. To realise their true benefits they must interact fully with the rest of the Smart Energy home.

The typical consumer today has almost no information about where energy is consumed within their home, and has no convenient way of optimising it. Smart Meters can be a great source of information, but they do not – on their own – cause any carbon reduction. To achieve actual reductions, the information they produce needs to be delivered to:

1) The consumer, as meaningful, engaging information
2) Home appliances, which can act on the information

Information technology, in the form of increased connectivity and intelligence, can dramatically reduce home energy consumption in two ways: 1) by delivering meaningful information to the consumer, and 2) by automatically reducing consumption by making all appliances aware of the changing cost of energy in conjunction with other important information such as lifestyle patterns and preferences.

We are moving into a future in which, for a large and growing number of UK consumers, “if information is not online, then it might as well not exist”. As evidence of this, it is the government’s stated intention to provide universal broadband within the UK by 2012, providing a permanent data connection to every home.

The UK Smart Meter roll out can take advantage of this expansion in connectivity by implementing meters and metering infrastructure with real-time, open interfaces throughout – both in the home and online. If real-time electricity and gas consumption data is made available to consumers and their agents – not just as “closed”, proprietary displays and pre-digested information, but as live accessible data – then it can be used by devices and services both inside the home and online to help the consumer drive down consumption.

In short, we believe that consumers and the environment will not derive anything close to the maximum achievable benefit from a fixed, closed architecture, where the consumer is just passively delivered “packaged” information:

Instead, we believe that the smart meter architecture should be open and future-proof, so that third-parties like Google Power Meter, and many other providers can offer the consumer devices and services which leverage live metering data to deliver greater energy savings:

Answers to specific questions

1. Do you have any comments on the Government’s preference for the Central Communications model?

We agree that the Central Communications model is the right way to deliver and manage the wide area communications infrastructure and data carriage.

However, we note that under this model the Central Communications provider will collect and store detailed energy consumption data from smart meters. We believe that both consumers and suppliers should be able to analyse/visualise this data and identify the most appropriate actions to take that would reduce energy consumption.

Therefore we recommend that consumers should be recognised as co-owners, with their energy supplier, of their own live and historical energy consumption data and the associated tariff and pricing data. This data should be available to download, simply and free of charge, from a secure internet site. The data itself should be made available in an open, industry standard electronic format.

Furthermore, consumers should have the right to delegate to third parties the right to securely download, store and process their data for the purposes of data analysis and visualisation. By allowing third parties to access this data, as well as individual consumers and their suppliers, the Government will enable the market to deliver innovative new products that enable consumers to recognise energy saving opportunities and take appropriate action.

An analogy here is retail banking, where most high street banks have internet sites that allow customers to view their recent transactions and manage their accounts. However, these sites also allow their customers to download their banking data in industry standard formats, so that they can load it into third party programs which give access to a wider range of features than typical bank websites. In the energy sphere the energy products produce data that can be analysed on the website, but can also be downloaded for analysis in third party programs and on other websites. Google are working on a service known as PowerMeter, currently in private testing, that will allow users to upload and analyse data about their energy consumption. These are examples of the benefits that accrue to consumers when data about their daily activities – whether financial or energy related – is made available in open, industry standard electronic formats.

7. Do you agree with the functionality proposed for electricity meters?

Our key recommendation with regard to the proposed functionality for electricity meters is that a consumer should be able to purchase an in-home device and be confident that it can securely access real-time data from their smart meter without being restricted by the need to gain authorisation from their energy supplier.

It is important that consumers are both able to analyse/visualise their real-time energy load and consumption, and take appropriate action to reduce energy consumption, without being dependent on their energy supplier to provide this service. In-home displays are the most well known means of engaging consumers with their energy consumption. However, “home hubs” (for home area networks or HANs) will have an important role in alerting consumers to energy saving opportunities in real time, whether through in-home displays or by alerting the consumer through email, text messages, mobile phone applications and websites, and also in automatically co-ordinating (and therefore reducing) home energy consumption. The energy monitoring product is a good example of a third party product that can engage consumers in energy saving, using real time energy load and consumption data to power email and text message alerts, and allowing them to monitor and review the consumption using in-home displays, mobile phones and the website.

The Government has an opportunity to create a dynamic market for products and services that let consumers analyse their consumption data and suggest energy saving options. In practice, this means that in-home devices such as displays and “home hubs” should be able to securely access real-time data from electricity and gas meters using an open industry standard such as the ZigBee Smart Energy profile. Such data would include real-time electricity load, recent electricity and gas consumption, tariff and pricing information, and other information originating from suppliers such as demand-response requests and meter-functionality updates.

Consumers who purchase an in-home device to measure and manage their energy consumption, such as a display or an Internet-connected home hub, will expect their new device to easily interface with the smart meter. However, consumers should also be confident that their energy consumption data will not be available to unauthorised third parties. Therefore it is important to create a security scheme for access to real time smart meter data that balances the requirement for data security with an open market for innovative in-home devices.

Giving suppliers the right to arbitrarily block in-home devices from accessing real-time data generated by their customers’ smart meters would allow them to impose unreasonable barriers to market entry for innovative in-home devices. Although suppliers have an important role to play in the deployment of in-home devices, we strongly believe that consumers should be able to purchase and self install an in-home device that can access real time energy consumption data without having to obtain permission from their supplier.

There may therefore be a need for a security accreditation process for in-home devices to be allowed to securely access this real-time data. This process should be run by the Central Communications provider, who should mandate an open, industry standard security scheme to be supported by smart meters and in-home devices, such the ZigBee Smart Energy profile. If it becomes necessary to create a central, Internet-connected authorisation service for consumers to “pair” in-home devices with their smart meter then the Central Communications provider should be responsible for operating this service.

9. Do you agree with the functionality proposed for gas meters? Please explain your reasons and if possible give reasons for your comments.

We believe that the same principles of allowing in-home devices open access to real-time data should apply to gas meters and electricity meters. It is clearly also important that the same wireless protocols and security scheme that governs the interaction between in-home devices and electricity smart meters should be implemented on gas smart meters. This will reduce the cost of in-home devices, by allowing the same chipset and software stack to be used for access to both meters in a typical house, and enable consumers to engage with an integrated, whole-house view of their energy consumption.

12. Do you agree with the Government’s position that a standalone display should be provided with a smart meter?

We fully support the Governments intention that consumers who have a smart meter installed are able to better understand their energy consumption and take steps to reduce their energy consumption, save money and save carbon. We agree that one way to engage consumers is to bundle a real-time in-home display with each newly installed smart meter. However, we are concerned that by choosing to mandate a real-time display, at the suppliers’ expense, the Government may actually be preventing suppliers from installing other types of in-home device, such as smart-meter enabled “home hubs”, that would enable more sophisticated and long-term energy saving strategies. This is underlined by the eight year roll out timetable – in that time, entire new categories of energy saving products and services are likely to emerge, but their adoption in the UK could be significantly impaired if suppliers are required to install simple, in-home displays with an obsolete, out of date specification.

We believe that Government should require suppliers to drive consumer engagement by offering in-home devices to consumers when a smart meter is installed, but that the suppliers should be allowed to offer a range of options to consumers that have been proven to enable energy savings. These options might include simple and advanced real-time displays, but also “home hubs” that monitor energy consumption and engage consumers through website, mobile phones or indeed in-home displays, and other technologies that are not yet widely available. Government may choose to require suppliers to submit such devices or products for certification, whether through CERT or a similar process. Crucially, this would allow innovative new energy saving products to be introduced to the market by suppliers, giving consumers the benefit of new technology as it emerges, and avoiding inappropriate technology lock-in.

The energy monitoring product is a good example of a third party product that can engage consumers in energy saving, using real time energy load and consumption data to power email and text message alerts, and allowing them to monitor and review the consumption using any combination of in-home displays, mobile phones and the website.

13. Do you have any comments on what sort of data should be provided to consumers as a minimum to help them best act to save energy (e.g. information on energy use, money, CO2)?

As we have outlined in our answers to questions 1 and 7, we firmly believe that consumers should be recognised as co-owners, with their energy supplier, of their own historical energy consumption data and the associated tariff and pricing data. This data should be available for consumers to easily download in electronic format from a secure internet site. Furthermore, consumers should have the right to delegate to third parties the right to securely download, store and process their data for the purposes of data analysis and visualisation. The same principle should apply to real-time energy data generated by smart meters.

We believe that the Government should specify the items of data that smart meters should capture and make available, both in real-time locally, and to the Communication Provider. However, we do not believe that the Government should mandate the specific data that consumers should receive. As we have explained in our answer to question 12, we believe that suppliers should be required to drive consumer engagement by offering in-home devices to consumers when a smart meter is installed, but that the suppliers should be allowed to offer a range of options to consumers that have been proven to enable energy savings. These options might include simple and advanced real-time displays, but also “home hubs” that monitor energy consumption and engage consumers through website, mobile phones or indeed in-home displays, and other technologies that are not yet widely available. Specifying the “correct” set of data that is presented to consumers would limit the scope of innovative devices and products that might lead to new methods of enabling energy saving by consumers.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

We did mean to go to sea

Recently at bedtime I've been reading my son Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series, in particular the excellent "We didn't mean to go to sea". The four children go on a sailing trip in the care of Jim, an experienced sailor aged 17. Jim moors them in the mouth of the River Orwell, rows off to get some petrol for the engine ... and doesn't come back. Fog descends, the anchor starts to drag, and before they know it the children are fighting to get the yacht under control as they drift past "Beach End Buoy" into the North Sea with a storm rising. Exciting stuff!

I was lucky enough to spend last weekend sailing in the North Sea, and around the Rivers Orwell and Stour, which is the setting of the book. We saw the buoy and we even saw Arthur Ransome's yacht "Nancy Blackett", which inspired the story, sailing past us - it's now owned by a trust.

The mouth of the river is bracketed by the busy container port of Felixstowe and the old port of Harwich, and on Felixstowe docks I was intrigued to see a pile of wind farm pillars and turbine blades stacked ready for installation. We then sailed south down the coast close to the Gunfleet Sands Offshore Wind Farm, where 48 turbines are being installed.

The process is fascinating to watch. A massive floating platform called the Titan 2 is used to ferry the parts out to sea and then fix them to the sea bed. Self-powered, it can manoeuvre in any direction, and when it reaches the destination it lowers its legs onto the sea floor, raising it up into a stable platform, from which its cranes can lower the parts and assemble them. I was told that a sister ship capsized and sunk in high seas a few years ago - it must be extremely unstable with the legs all lifted - although I admit I haven't been able to verify this story!

These turbines are HUGE - and when the entire farm of 48 turbines is fully operational (summer of 2010), they will deliver enough power for 120,000 homes. It's at once very exciting to see some real action on delivering renewables, and yet also puts it into perspective that this will provide less than 0.5% of our domestic requirements. Still, it's a start, and it shows leadership. More please!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

How much can AlertMe save you?

When I joined AlertMe a few months ago, it didn't take long for me to realise that the company's plans with regard to energy were truly impressive. One thing I couldn't help wondering, though, was how much money could a system like this really save me? Of course many people are motivated by the environment or energy security, but for most people it's pleasing to see a real cash saving from energy monitoring and management.

Recently, I found the answer to this question, and it came as a big surprise.

I've been monitoring my house's electricity consumption using technology that AlertMe will be launching later this year. I was able to see most of the big loads such as washing machine, tumble drier and fridge, but there were two mysterious loads: one that came on every hour like clockwork and used 2kW for about a minute, and another that came on less frequently (a few times a day) but used a lot more energy. By a process of elimination and experimentation I eventually found the culprits: an immersion heater (which we really don't need since the gas heated water is more than enough for our needs) and a small electric water heater in the out-building in our garden.

So, on 26th May, I turned off the first of these, and on the 27th, I turned off the second. The effect has been dramatic. The average electricity consumption of our house before the 26th was around 28kWh, or over £4 per day. After the 27th, average consumption has dropped to around 17kWh, or just £2.50 per day. This equates to a saving of about 40% or an annual saving of over £500! All from just turning off two water heaters that we don't need.

This may well be a fairly unusual case, but it makes the point that most people have no idea how much energy they're using or where the energy is going. As you can see from the picture, the immersion heater is huge, and hard to miss, but frankly I'd never really considered what it was or what it did, and it certainly didn't occur to me that it was costing me hundreds of pounds a year to run!

Do you know how much it costs you to run your washing machine or dishwasher? Or your lighting? And how do you make a decision about whether it's more important to stop leaving your TV on standby or to just buy a new one?

AlertMe's Smart Energy and Monitoring solution provides you with information which you can use to make real savings, and the wealth of new features we have planned for the coming months will make it even easier to understand and control your energy consumption.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009


What a wonderful word. It is great to able to spread the excellent news that AlertMe has succeeded in raising a big chunk of cash - £8m ($13m) - from the world’s top clean-tech investors, which sets us up for our next strong phase of commercial growth.

With all the recent crises of war, food, oil and finance it’s clear the next few years are going to be quite challenging for the world. And since investment tends to be a lead indicator for bad news, the last 9 months have been a tough time to be raising money. OK, that’s English understatement - if you remember, just a few months ago the headlines were full of talk about the possible collapse of the Western banking system, with banks defaulting almost daily. So it’s been tougher than tough.

But humans, for all our faults, have one redeeming quality which shines out in tough times – we rise to a challenge. And the biggest challenge facing all of us on this planet right now is that we’re living beyond our means when it comes to energy consumption – whether its concern about Putin turning-off the pipelines, or declining oil reserves, or climate change, we can’t continue with business as usual.

However, the great thing about challenging times is that they create opportunities for inventive solutions. It’s interesting that way back in 1916 Thomas Edison could forsee change:

“You see, we should make use of the forces of nature and should obtain all our power in this way. Sunshine is a form of energy. Wind and sea currents are manifestations of this energy. Do we make use of them? Oh no! We burn forests and coal, like tenants burning down our front door for heating. We live like wild settlers and not as though these resources belong to us. “

When our grandchildren look back in 100 years time, I believe they’ll mark sometime about now as the time that we finally faced-up to the big responsibility of being the dominant species on Earth. We’ve got someone in the White House who is showing leadership - and hopefully we’ll soon be able to say the same in the UK. The tides are changing, the winds of change are blowing … and although we can generate electricity from both, we’re going to need to get the consumption side of the equation under control to have a hope of true sustainability. So when our grandchildren ask what we personally did about it … well, I think that AlertMe Smart Energy can make a big difference.

We’re not the only player in town – many companies are looking at this space. Some are focussed on the “Smart Grid”, working to provide utilities with ways to get energy from the power stations to the meter outside the home. And some are, like us, saying “hey, don’t forget the consumer!” The fact that our platform has already had more than a year and a half of real-world testing by paying customers, and that we’ve shipped more than 15,000 ZigBee units, gives us something of a lead, but we’re going to have to keep moving really fast to keep ahead of our followers.

The huge raft of new features we’ve added for AlertMe 2.0 takes us a long way towards our goals – and the early feedback is that they are features that the world clearly wants. In our customer satisfaction surveys, and in our daily interactions with customers, the clear message is that consumers are adopting AlertMe as an integral part of their daily lives.

As I said, it’s been a “tough” time to be going out raising money. We went out to the market in July last year, and as we took our road show around the European and US venture capital market, the financial situation got worse and worse. Then Lehmann Brothers collapsed, and no-one wanted to do anything anymore, particularly anything involving consumers.

Well, almost.

Luckily inside the storm cloud of climate change there was a silver lining for us. There are some truly humungous Cleantech venture funds out there, keen to seize the massive opportunity that this energy revolution represents.

In August we started talking to the biggest of them all – Good Energies, a global fund who invest many hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Until now they’ve mainly invested in big supply-side renewable investments like Solar and Wind, but they were one of the first funds to realize that managing the demand side (i.e. consumption) is just as big an opportunity. They are fans of the statement that “the cheapest kilowatt-hour is the one you don’t have to generate in the first place”. So they geared-up their significant team and network to the task of doing “due diligence” on this whole new consumer-oriented energy-saving space – and understanding our role in it.

We took our road-show to Silicon Valley. I lived there for 6 years in the 1990’s, and I appreciate the straight-talking can-do attitude of Northern California. For several years I’ve been boring my English friends with the prediction that one day, when the Americans finally get around to paying attention to climate-change, then almost overnight they’ll step-up and take a leading role in solving it. I think we’re witnessing this change right now, and it’s great to see. The leading clean-tech investor in the Valley is VantagePoint, and the more time they spent looking at us, the more they liked us. Their decision to invest gives us a vital connection to this key part of the world. I was lucky-enough to spend some time recently at their annual “ResourcePoint” conference where we learned about the effects of the Obama stimulus package from leading lights in the US energy ecosystem.

Meanwhile, back in our home continent of Europe the leading consumer venture capital company is Index. They have nurtured massive consumer startup hits like Skype and LoveFilm and we wanted some of that magic, so we were delighted when they said they’d invest too. They are almost unique in understanding just how important it is (and how much focus it takes) to really engage effectively with consumers.

And finally – but perhaps I should have mentioned them first of all – we also have a Dutch Cleantech VC called SetVP on board. They were in fact the first investors to track us down last summer, and since then they have been unswervingly supportive. Like us, they understand that speed and agility are vital, and it’s no overstatement to say that without them this just wouldn’t have happened.

Originally we were looking to close this funding round in October. You’ll notice that it’s taken a bit longer than that, for understandable reasons. To keep us going at maximum speed through this period has taken strong support from our Angels and investors - and of course most importantly our customers, whose increasing numbers have helped drive our revenue upward even through these tough times.

Throughout it all, I had great faith that we’d succeed, even in a competitive space, even at a challenging time, because quality generally wins-out in the end. And speaking of quality, a phrase we have heard from every single investor we talked to is “you have a very high quality team”. And we do! Not just in terms of the specialist skills in the team, but also in the way everyone gets on, trusts each other to do their job, greets adversity with humour, and looks-out for each other. So huge thanks to everyone at Team AlertMe. Funding is always a bit of rollercoaster ride at startups, and the last few months have felt at times like the kind of rollercoaster you see in an Indiana Jones movie. But through all of this, our wonderful team has continued to focus single-mindedly on continuing to build AlertMe into a world-class player – delivering the major new AlertMe 2.0 service upgrade, closing deals, keeping our customers happy and generally getting us to the point where we can now rightly claim to be THE world’s leading Smart Home Energy company.

It seems that we’re very lucky to find ourselves at the centre of such an exciting and important space at just the right time. There’s a huge wave to ride and we find ourselves out in front of it, paddling hard. But as Thomas Jefferson said: “I'm a great believer in luck. And I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Earth Hour - a day early

So there I was on the evening of March 27th, putting the children to bed, and vaguely thinking that the WWF's "Earth Hour" was due to happen tomorrow (where everyone turns off their lights for an hour to show awareness of climate change) when suddenly...

The lights went out! In fact, everything went out. Had I got the date wrong? Was this some kind of government-enforced black-out to make sure we got the point?

We got the flashlights and candles out, and looked outside into a dark street - it was a village-wide outage at least. Quite fun really, once we'd reassured the children that it was only temporary, to be reading books by candlelight.

And then to bed. The children like to have a little nightlight on, but of course the nightlights weren't working, and I wasn't too keen on the idea of candles in their bedrooms. Then I realised that since our AlertMe system was still working unaffected I could just set our AlertMe lamps to "White" and give them one each for the night to keep the spooks away. They were a little bit too bright (I've asked the guys at AlertMe to add a new "dim white" option) but they worked like a charm.

During the night I was vaguely aware of the power coming back on then going off again a few times - and indeed when I checked the log from work the next day, I saw that after the first major outage the power failed another 6 times that night for short periods.

Certainly makes you appreciate how reliable the grid normally is.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Google PowerMeter - data wants to be free

The folks at have gone public with a prototype project they've had in skunkworks for a while called the Google PowerMeter. The idea is to help people understand their energy usage better by providing visualisation and analysis tools, in much the same way that Google already does for advertisers with its Adwords/Analytics tools.

Of course to visualise your energy consumption you first have to measure it. As they quote William Thompson, Lord Kelvin: "If you can not measure it, you can not improve it."And Google have spotted that although many of the Smart Meters currently being rolled-out in the USA do measure it, they don't then give consumers access to their own data. So Google are campaigning to change this, saying: "We believe that detailed data on your personal energy use belongs to you, and should be available in a standard, non-proprietary format."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves - AlertMe passionately believes that data wants to be free, and from the start our customers have been able to export their data manually, into a spreadsheet. Now we're exploring ways to integrate seamlessly with new online tools like PowerMeter so that our customers can ever-more easily engage with their energy usage.

(on an almost entirely unrelated note, but on the general theme of doing a great job of visualising data, if you haven't already seen it do check-out Hans Rosling's 2006 talk at TED - he does a fantastic job of making dry statistics leap out and dance - a real delight.)

Monday, 12 January 2009

Joys of 2.0

I've been using AlertMe 2.0 in my home for a few weeks now. I'm always keen to be a guinea-pig for our new features and accessories, partly just to help out with beta testing (real-world testing beats lab testing, any day) but also as a sanity-check that what we're about to bring to market really does do a useful job in a useful way.

Our engineers will tell you that it normally takes me all of 5 seconds from seeing the first demo of a new feature to coming up with 10 things that need improving about it (but I do try to wait that 5 seconds - or 10 if I'm really blown away). So I try to be our harshest critic. But I have to say that 2.0 is really working for me.

Just before Christmas I grabbed two SmartPlugs from the very limited pre-production run to play with at home. One has ended-up on our media centre, where it is reducing its standby consumption, and the other is being used to measure power consumption of our kettle, for no good reason than I wondered if kettle consumption was significant.

AlertMe 2.0 is a major upgrade of the AlertMe service. It supports not just the features required for our new Energy accessories, but a whole load of new functionality that is generally useful. The charting has been significantly improved - you can now look at data on a timeline instead of a chart. For example, from the chart left you can see when we boil the kettle (a national UK pasttime!), top, and when we watch TV, bottom, over the course of a week or so.

You can also see totals for how much energy you've consumed over a period of time:

From the individual SmartPlug icons, you can also see consumption at a glance, and even turn the appliances on and off by clicking on the 0/1 button.

We now also have whole-household electricity monitoring working too, so as well as this appliance-by-appliance SmartPlug view, you can look at, and log, your overall household consumption. As with temperature charts, it can get surprisingly addictive!

And now for the real joy of 2.0. We've had very cold weather in the UK over the past couple of weeks - temperatures have stayed well below freezing throughout the day. The trouble with this is that by around 2 o'clock in the morning, my 3-year-old's bedroom has been getting pretty cold, and she'd wake up and come and wake us up too, to cuddle in. After the third such night, I decided it was time for action! We have a small portable oil-filled electric radiator, with a thermostat which does a great job of regulating its own temperature, but an awful job of regulating the overall room temperature, because of course the thermostat is right next to the source of heat (I've seen the same problem with the Thermostatic Radiator Valves on all our radiators, but that's another story).

I though "Aha!". AlertMe does a fantastic job of measuring room temperature, so now I should be able to use a SmartPlug to control the heater, et voila. And indeed using one of the new "do more" buttons which reveal a lot of the power in the 2.0 release, with literally 5 minutes of effort, total, it worked first time. A few clicks on the website (about 15, to be honest, and we need to work on getting this down) and moving the Smart Plug from my Media Centre to the radiatior, and it was all set up to turn the radiator on if my daughter's room fell below 14C (and off again if it exceeded 16C). The "Do more" button drills down to an action chooser, so you can use any cause (e.g. temperature) to cause any action (e.g. turning a Smart plug on and off). The idea is that people who want to do advanced things can do them, but the interface stays clean and simple for everyone else.

And that night ... peace!

Now that really is worth something.