During the last couple of months I have been working with British Gas and BritMums as a Smart Mums ambassador, discussing ways to save energy in the home. This week, I was privileged to visit the British Gas Headquarters in Staines, for a behind-the-scenes peek at some of the products that are already appearing in homes across the UK.
Dana, from British Gas Smart Homes, demonstrating the Smart Meter handsets. Dana, from British Gas Smart Homes, demonstrating the Smart Meter handsets.
Moving forward from its traditional business as an energy provider, which historically has been dependent on creating energy from fossil fuels, British Gas is now also focusing on innovations that enable its customers to benefit from renewable energy and have better control of energy usage as well as modernising other aspects of their homes.
The initial focus of the visit was to take a look at the testing lab, where the company calibrates and tests the performance of the Smart Meters that are being installed into customers’ homes. Although they are not legally required until 2019, British Gas has already commenced upgrading properties and has installed over 400,000 units since 2010, offering customers more control over their energy consumption.
The mobile handsets, the latest version of which is pictured above, enable households to monitor their actual expenditure at any given time as well as forecasting the impact of their energy usage on future bills. This means that customers can visualise the real savings from efforts to reduce their usage, e.g. turning down the heating, improving insulation, or even closing the curtains at dusk. For eco-geeks, the handset also translates the savings into CO2 measurements, so if you’re on a carbon diet, the system will help you monitor your goals.
Of course much of this is already achievable with energy monitors that you can buy off the shelf, but the advantage of a system that is wired into the energy supplier is that it provides such accurate information, that once it’s installed and you’ve had your training session, you can finally wave goodbye to the inconvenience of estimated bills as well as visits from the meter reader.
The rest of the day was filled with introductions to new technologies such as those that will allow customers to control their heating remotely, simply by logging onto the Internet or a mobile app. Making good use of broadband and Wi-Fi technology, British Gas has also diversified into the home security market, with alarms that alert the customer directly if their home is experiencing a break-in or if there is threat of fire, a gas leak, a water leak or carbon monoxide risk. Customers can also configure the Safe & Secure monitoring system remotely and if there are any issues, they will be notified via a mobile update.
If there was a catchphrase that could sum up my day at the company’s HQ, it would be “I didn’t know British Gas did that!” And on that very subject, I guess the one thing that appealed to me the most, was the company’s investment in developing the Electric Vehicle (EV) market.
One of the key issues that is met by the current EV market, is the perceived limit on mileage. And yes, it can be daunting to think you can only achieve just over 100 miles between recharging. However, while battery power is being improved and vehicle based technology becomes more efficient, British Gas is striving to develop facilities that will make charging more efficient and easier for EV customers. This also includes the introduction of a new off-peak saver tariff, which reduces the price of electricity between 8pm-4pm, so it makes it cheaper to charge your vehicle overnight.
British Gas also sells and installs domestic EV chargers for off-road charging, but more interestingly, they are increasingly working with businesses to develop the roll-out of chargers in the workplace as well as public installations in towns and cities. When combined with Solar PV technology, which can also be installed at a domestic level, it becomes a very exciting proposition indeed.
We were shown a video of Robert Llewellyn demonstrating his car and I confess I watched it with a real touch of envy.
And I must admit, having being driven back to the station in a Nissan LEAF, which was charged by the company’s Solar PV unit in the HQ car park, I now want to convert. However, until the prices of cars fall (despite £5K grants being available), I know I won’t be able to. A pity really, because with a car that’s only done 14,000 miles in six years, I know an Electric Vehicle would do me just fine, especially with the thought of banishing the petrol station queue forever.
Of course, being a ‘rubbish blogger’, I couldn’t visit any corporate headquarters without taking note of their waste reduction policies, and it was encouraging to see recycling bins dotted throughout the offices, for paper, plastics and cans, as well as batteries. And all credit to British Gas, the company’s recycling bins are accompanied by some of the best labelling and recycling instructions I’ve seen in a long time!
British Gas will be at this year’s Ideal Home Show, which takes place 16 March to 1 April, 2012. Look out for their stand, where they will be demonstrating many of their new products in their Smarter Home display.