Smarter home: British Gas reflects on how it took on Google’s Nest


A year after the launch of British Gas’s smart thermostat – Hive Active Heating – commercial director Nina Bhatia, told a trade event last week that it was essential to create a separate business unit to bring Hive to the market. 

In a case study that will be of interest to other utilities looking to launch consumer energy products, Ms Bhatia said “Physically – but not emotionally – separate from British Gas, we had the space to work in a nimble way and to attract the sort of talent vital to invent, launch, and support this type of product.

“So we were able to pull on the 200 years of expertise British Gas has, while having the freedom to act like a small technology firm.”

The big six energy supplier has 100,000 customers signed up to Hive Active Heating, which offers free installation of the Hive smart thermostat and allows you to control heating and hot water remotely via mobile phone.

Selling on the high street

Commenting on competing with other products on the market such as Google’s Nest, Bhatia said: “We’ve also learnt a fair bit along the way, as we took on big-hitting technology companies like Google to bring this product to the high street and secure the spot as market leader.

“Hive Active Heating, which is available to anyone, not just British Gas customers, is now stocked by major retailers Apple, Amazon, John Lewis, Maplin and Dixons/PC World.”

Talking about lessons learnt in the past 12 months, Bhatia said the energy company’s engineers were vital to the product’s success. She said: “We have an incredible team of 10,000 engineers visiting 50,000 homes every day, and they’re the ones we’ve entrusted to install Hive Active Heating.

“The UK wiring system is notoriously complex, and so our highly qualified engineers have been absolutely central to its success.”

Consumer engagement

Bhatia explained that the same team behind Hive Active Heating are turning smart meter data into actionable insights for customers through Smart Energy Reports. Customers can drill down by day, week and even appliance type, and compare their use to that of similar homes.

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

“Over 70 per cent of customers say they find it very helpful and over 20 per cent 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. This tool gives a level of insight never seen before.”

The future – the connected home

Commenting on where British Gas plans to develop its smart energy offering, Bhatia said the connected home is a new concept in the UK but it’s gathering pace. [British Gas wants to take over your home (in a good way)]

She said: “The cost of hardware is coming down, and combined with the right software, we’ll soon be programming our homes to act in a way that enables technology to take care of us.”

“Our sister company Direct Energy in North America is already looking beyond just gas and electricity to other solutions that help their customers be more efficient, like smart sprinklers that know when to switch on based on the weather and soil, or sensors that sound an alarm if a cupboard with chemicals is opened in your home, perhaps by a toddler when your back is turned.

Bhatia added: “At British Gas we are focused for now on energy and developing solutions to help customers with heating, hot water, and appliances that use energy. We are already looking at connected appliances and trialling connected boilers. This enables early detection and a first time fix – possibly before the customer even notices a problem.”