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Current± Disruptors: Equiwatt’s Johnson Fernandes and Geoff Phillips on gamification and flexibility

Image: Equiwatt.

In October, tech startup Equiwatt successfully raised £300,000 to roll out its smart energy management app throughout the UK. The funding will allow the company to run trials in Gateshead, as well as expand its team.

The funding comes after the technology was selected to take part in an Energy Systems Catapult project in March, with the aim of developing solutions to help create a smarter, more flexible energy system.

Current± caught up with Equiwatt founder and CEO Johnson Fernandes and CMO Geoff Phillips to talk about how the app works and what’s next for the startup.

Where did the idea for the Equiwatt app came from?

Johnson Fernandes (JF): The inspiration came from my childhood, when I was growing up in my home country, I faced power cuts and blackouts on a quite frequent basis. It's weekly in India as load shedding - or planned power cuts as it's called - is used as a way of managing peak time stress on the grid in developing nations.

When I came to the UK I realised that the problem exists on a different level, the same problem translates to building more and more power plants and having standby power plants that are carbon intensive and lead to high carbon intensity of peak time energy that apply at the same time rising energy bills.

So from that inspiration of using clean energy to solve the power cut problem, we started looking at a solar panel and battery storage product. We soon realised that for us to have a sustainable impact, there needed to be a behaviour shift in how consumers perceive energy. And for us to have that scalable or exponential growth, which can actually make some impact into society, it needs to be clean technology that's more accessible to every consumer.

So with that idea, and the dream of making clean technology more accessible and affordable to every user, the Equiwatt app was inspired.

Could you tell me a little about how is has developed?

JF: We started as a demand side management software, but quickly focused on a consumer engagement front end purely because consumers have historically been very poor in the engagement with energy, people still don't understand their energy bills very well and expect energy to just happen in the background. And so we needed to first solve that.

So with that focus on consumer engagement, we built the Equiwatt app in such a way that a complex, clean technology, like demand side response is simplified and made accessible as a gamified service, which makes energy saving simply fun, engaging and rewarding.

The app right now gives people points for saving energy at peak times, and those points can be exchanged for vouchers, smart plugs, energy saving product discounts, and that sort of thing.

Geoff Phillips (GP): Engaging consumers is reported in pretty much all energy research that is out there in the market at the moment. We've been fortunate to be part of the Energy Systems Catapult ISP, over the last six months, and a lot of their research points highlight consumer engagement as being very important in helping us to digitalise or to transition and shift into a new age of energy management.

And we know that getting into UK households is something that hasn't been done much from a DSR point of view. But the power comes in engaging a significant number of households at the same time, therefore, building up a community that gets behind this and has a belief in collectively being able to make a change is going to be important to what we do.

That goes back a little bit to the inspiration that Johnson talked about at the start, which is building a – and I know it sounds a bit cliched – but building a better world for everyone really, and with everybody taking part in that and being able to see the impact that they can have.

What sort of technology do people have to have in the home to use the Equiwatt app?

JF: We are starting with a simple smart plug, which has an energy monitoring capability in it where users can measure the energy consumption and the demand reduction. So that can be hooked up to an appliance of their choice, and pairing that smart plug to our app is the simplest and easiest way for a household to participate, and get rewarded for saving energy.

We are also trialing a Manual Control mechanism that simply requires consumer interaction with the app. We are researching consumer willingness to participate manually during 'Equivents' through a prize draw mechanism.

We are an early stage startup so we are concentrating on building the best consumer experience one technology at a time. However, the potential via Smart Meters, IoT and the world of smart appliances provides a huge opportunity to link with existing household technology and minimise any barriers to consumer participation. Although our platform technology is relatively complicated and advanced, we are committed to keeping our consumer facing services as simple and accessible as possible.

And what's next for Equiwatt?

JF: Our aim is to have 5,000 registered users within the next 12 months. Alongside that, we plan to enter into initial commercial partnerships with both energy suppliers and/or aggregators to start scaling up the reach and potential of residential demand side response.

Editorial

Molly Lempriere Deputy Editor, Current±

Molly Lempriere is deputy editor at Solar Media, responsible for its UK-facing publications Solar Power Portal and Current±.

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