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UK dual-fuel energy company British Gas will trial smart prepaid meters and connected boilers as part of a move towards a full connected home offering, according to commercial director Nina Bhatia.

Speaking at Ofgem‘s Smart Energy Conference earlier this month, Ms Bhatia, who is also responsible for British Gas’ Connected Homes business, said the boundaries are changing between what customers expect from an energy company and what they can now offer. “I am recruiting software engineers, user experience designers and data scientists from Nasa. They are motivated by changing customers engagement with energy.”

Smart prepaid meters

British Gas, which has already installed 1.4 million smart meters, is now looking to smart prepaid meters as a way to help customers ‘see’ their energy use.

Bhatia said: “Our smart prepay offering is an industry first and will simply transform the lives of customers on limited budgets as well as those who make a lifestyle choice to prepay.”

A connected home

As part of its home services, the energy company is developing ideas for connected appliances and trialling connected boilers that can alert British Gas and the customer about a decrease in efficiency or reliability.

Commenting on the overall vision of British Gas’ Connected Home, Bhatia said: “We want an open system so that the customer can buy and connect whatever devices and appliances they want – that’s why we welcome initiatives such as NEST’s developer programme and the recent announcement from Apple about Homekit.

“We will also be customer led – meaning that we will develop products and services that customers want to buy from us, when they are ready.”

Smart consumer tools

British Gas already offers smart meter customers an online tool to check energy consumption as well as mobile-controlled central heating.

The online tool tells customers what they use energy on, when, and how they compare to other similar homes. Customers can drill down by day, week and even appliance type.

Bhatia said: “We’re seeing a transformed level of engagement, with people spending on average 5 minutes minutes exploring their report each time.

“Over 70 percent of customers say they find it very helpful and over 20 percent return every month. Mostly, they’re looking at energy use over time, comparing their use to that of similar homes, and playing around with the details about appliances to explore the difference that makes to energy use and their bills.”

The Hive Active Heating is a smart thermostat allowing customers to control their heating and hot water remotely on their mobile phone.

Bhatia said: “The key here is customers are in control. Over 50 per cent of our customers use the product at least once a day, and they’re not only using it when they’re on their way home to heat a cold house. Surprisingly, 67 per cent of our customers say they regularly use Hive from their sofa.”