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Building Bulb

Designing for the future of energy

We’re working with members to design the tools and services you’ll use tomorrow. Hear from the Bulb Labs team on what they’ve learnt so far.

By Jenna Cusworth Bolger, Lead User Researcher in Bulb Labs

Our job at Bulb Labs is to design the future of energy. We try to work out the services, tools and tariffs you’ll need in the next three to five years so we can build them now. In this post, I’ll share the insights from the research we’ve been carrying out with ‘early adopter’ energy users.

Design research - our crystal ball

Predicting tomorrow’s energy trends isn’t just guesswork - there’s actually a science to it. ‘Design Research’, or getting out of the building and meeting people, is an important tool which we use to help us. We spend a lot of time talking to our members and other energy users, observing their behaviour and understanding their attitudes. They tell us what works and what doesn’t. With them, we run experiments and Beta tests which help us to develop products that people want and find useful. The insights we gain from this work mean we can improve our services right now. But they also give us clues about what might come in the future.

Learning from the 'early adopter' tribe

When we’re designing for the future, we concentrate our research on ‘early adopters’ - people who are the first to buy and use new technology as soon as it becomes available. In energy, ‘early adopters’ tend to have electric vehicles, solar panels and home automation. Often, they’re already living a near emission-free lifestyle. Take Warren, for example. He has his own Tesla Powerwall 2 installed in his garage at home in Shoreham-on-Sea. The pack allows you to store energy at home for off-grid use.

Warren with his slice of Californian future-tech, a Tesla Powerwall 2

The Bulb Labs team has spent the past few weeks meeting with early adopters and getting to know them. We got to know their behaviour, what delights them and what frustrates them. This work helps us to see what might be mainstream in the future and to design for those needs now.

We were impressed by the pioneering spirit of this ‘tribe’. All of them have made a serious financial and time commitment to experimenting with new energy technologies. After all, you can’t just buy this stuff in a box from John Lewis! They’re shaping the future of energy already. Here’s what they taught us:

1) Electric vehicles transform our relationship with energy

When we set out, we expected to find people embracing home energy adaptation over in one corner, and electric vehicle (EV) owners in another. It turns out that owning an electric car changes the whole way you think about your energy.

Electric campervan hire company eDub Trips gives a taste of a new way of driving

The massively increased load on your household electricity forces you to consider your relationship with your tariff, your energy provider and the national grid in ways you never had before. Owning an electric car means that solar panels suddenly make financial sense. Then the next step is battery storage, and so it goes on.

The effects of wider EV ownership in the coming years will impact in big and surprising ways. So Bulb Labs are starting to design tariffs and services to meet these needs.

2) Knowledge is power

This new relationship with energy makes you hungry for much more information about your energy use and what it’s costing you.

But right now it’s almost impossible to get a good, single-screen overview of your data. We met early adopters trying to monitor dozens of apps for all the services they use, tracking complex inflows and outflows of energy across car chargers, solar arrays, batteries and feed in tariffs.

Andy with just a few phone apps to manage his EV lifestyle

At Bulb Labs we’re thinking hard about how we can give you better, easier visibility for your energy data. Watch this space.

3) Financial incentives change behaviour

Our early adopters told us that knowledge about energy use is vital. Lots of early adopters have built their own tools to understand their energy use better.

Bill analyses his own energy data with a tool he designed himself

But on its own, this data won’t encourage people to change their behaviour. We can see a future where home automation will give people the ability to control when they use their electricity. But if we want people to use energy at times of lower grid pressure and carbon intensity, we need to find ways to incentivise that.

By giving you financial rewards we can create a ‘virtuous cycle’ of benefit - for you, for suppliers and for the planet.

So, what’s next?

These are just some of the insights we’ve gained from talking to early adopters and Bulb members. Bulb Labs will be using them to help shape our experiments over the next few months, all with the aim of making your future energy better, cheaper and greener.

If you are keen to get involved in our Bulb Labs experiments, register your interest here. We’d love you to get stuck in.