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Pamela Largue discovers how gamification technology is transforming activities across the energy sector.

Gamification is a term used to describe the application of game theory, concepts, rules and activities in a non-gaming environment. The Cambridge English Dictionary states that it’s the practice of making activities more like games in order to make them more interesting or enjoyable.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International Issue 5-2020.
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Gamification encourages engagement and motivates people to learn faster or better or to achieve specific goals. The gamification platform allows instant feedback on performance, as well as suggestions on how to improve.

So how can gamification possibly be applied in the power sector? The game is specifically designed to take the player on a journey including; discovering the product or concept, known as onboarding, or becoming familiar with the rules, design, mechanics and rewards, known as scaffolding, the process of rising through the ranks through regular use and finally, achieving the end game, where there is no more left to learn, explore or gain, and the desired level of social status or satisfaction is accomplished.

From a consumer perspective, gamification can be used to encourage utility customers to become more energy efficient by setting goals and keeping tabs on usage habits.

… AS HE/SHE PROGRESSES IN THE GAME AND INCREASES THE PROFICIENCY LEVEL, LESS HELP AND GUIDANCE ARE OFFERED…

Sharing results generates healthy competency and encourages cooperation. Achieving set goals can also generate rewards, such as tokens, which can be converted into energy savings. Utilities are increasingly seeing the power of gamification coupled with energy management software to guide customers into lowering consumption.

The changing nature of the power sector, together with rapid digitalisation is allowing for gamification to change the way the industry interacts with work and learning environments.

Here are some examples of how play is making a big impact on learning and development.

Negotiation training

Increasingly wind power buyers have moved from a model based on direct negotiation between two parties, to a tender-based system. This radical transformation in wind power service sales, contracts and maintenance has entailed an enormous challenge for the company’s human resources team.

To prepare their staff for the changing environment and upskill them with the necessary negotiation and language skills, Vestas implemented the Merchants video game.

This Gamelearn-developed course transports players back to fifteenth-century Venice, where they will face six ‘real’ negotiations and be challenged to become the best merchant in the city. Staff can learn negotiation best practices and problem-solving skills, all while students present proposals and reach agreements with tough negotiators who are by no means pushovers.

Safety training

Serious Games Interactive has developed a series of different simulation game courses. The games are interactive 3D, single-user simulations for procedural learning about carrying out the right safety procedures in servicing wind turbines and for the use of different equipment. Participation in the games is designed to boost proficiency and provide engaging learning for all staff members.

Siemens Gamesa, for example, used a Serious Games Interactive simulation program that would help trainees learn how to perform necessary actions inside the wind turbines and to do this in the right order. The trainee demonstrates his/ her skills to move on in the game.

In the beginning, the trainee will be offered help with text and visuals, and as he/ she progresses in the game and increases the proficiency level, less help and guidance are offered. At the final test level, the trainee will have to complete the tasks without any further help being made available.

Data processing

In the field of utility operations, the visualisation and gamification of data are transforming employee engagement and training, while simplifying increasingly complex data and analytics for the energy sector. Czech-based technology company, Mycroft Mind, is building innovative systems for processing and analysing big data collected from new sources, like intelligent smart grids or IoT.

Transforming all the available data analytical insights into simple 3D visual elements, Mycroft Mind can show and explain a system as complex as an energy grid in a single three-dimensional scene.

On a given substation and at a given time, or even over a given period, it is possible to correlate the information about the energy flow, voltage level, consumption amount and events impacting the grid such as home EV charging, non-technical losses, phase asymmetry, asset quality and many more. All the invaluable information in a single place, easily accessible, computed and visualized in real-time.

Minecraft meets renewables

European energy innovation and sustainability organisation, EIT InnoEnergy, recently announced a new module within Minecraft to teach school-age players about renewable, sustainable energy, free of charge.

Image source: Minecraft

Together with Minecraft creators Blockworks, EIT InnoEnergy has made Lumen, a game-based learning module, available to more than 1.5 billion students affected by school closures worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The module initially developed for 9 to 15-year-olds, teaches children about the fundamental concepts of energy, which can then be applied to build a sustainably powered Minecraft city, and forms part of the game’s Resourcefulness STEM curriculum, which is underwritten by US energy giant Itron.

The module includes immersive worlds created by the Minecraft master builders at Blockworks, as well as lessons in sustainable energy.

Games for grid balancing

In 2019, UK utility Northern Powergrid successfully completed a gamification trial whereby households were incentivised to reduce consumption at times of high demand through a mobile game.

More than 2,000 customers competed for cash prizes during the trial by turning off unnecessary appliances including televisions, washing machines and lights in exchange for points – the energy saved as a result was converted into points, which in turn, increased their chances to win cash prizes, with up to £350 available each month.

Players saved an average 11% at 305W, with some dropping as much as 4.9kWh in usage through the game. The company serves eight million customers across 3.9 million homes and businesses in Britain’s north east, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire, and have stated that mobile games have proved an important tool to manage power demand and reduce customer billing.

Northern Powergrid, Newcastle University and GenGame have entered into a £400,000 joint project with Ecotricity and EnAppSys to explore how mobile games can incentivise EV owners to use their vehicles to support the grid via charging technologies.

So, there you have it, gamification is certainly having an impact on the industry and could indeed drive the energy transition through transforming customer behaviour, upskilling sector employees and improving the safety of the equipment.

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