Loop's smart meter Beta: how's it gone?
Hi, my name’s Steve and I’m from the product team at Loop. In this Blog, I’m going to share how our smart meter Beta launch has gone, the feedback we’ve had and what comes next.
What is Loop’s smart meter Beta?
Understanding how and when you use energy is the key enabler to reducing your bills and carbon emissions. When we first launched Loop, our users installed Loop hardware to gather this data on your energy use.
But over the past few years the UK’s smart meter rollout has been gathering pace. And, crucially, has moved to a centralized communication system - enabling companies like Loop to access a customer’s smart meter data with their permission.
As the number of homes with accessible smart meter data has increased, we decided the time was right to add smart meter integration to Loop: all of Loop’s benefits with no need for additional hardware.
Why launch in Beta?
By launching smart meter compatibility early in our development process, in a Beta, it opens up the benefits of Loop to more people earlier, whilst allowing us to gain vital feedback so we build the right thing.
We’re a small team and need to build products that our customers want. Since launching smart meter compatibility in June we’ve had hundreds of users take our surveys and around 50 remote user feedback sessions. It’s all helped shape what comes next.
Have you faced challenges obtaining smart meter data?
To start with the basics: how do we get smart meter data?
Each smart meter stores up to 13 months of historical energy usage data at half-hourly resolution.
To get data from your meter an authorised party sends a request to the meter via the central Data Communications Company (DCC) over a cellular network. Your meter then responds to this request.
Loop doesn’t directly interface with the DCC, but rather we work with our partner N3rgy data who make requests to your meter via the DCC on our behalf.
We’ve seen 3 challenges:
- Some older smart meters are not compatible with the DCC yet. Customers don’t know this until they try to sign up leading to frustration at not being able to access Loop.
- The smart meter network is slow. It can take over a minute between us requesting data from your smart meter and receiving a response. It makes it hard to build a modern user experience where customers expect instant syncing of data. It also adds technical difficulty as modern technical systems expect quick responses.
- Some smart meters are unreliable - certain meters will reject our requests for data every time and others will only respond occasionally - this can lead to holes in data or, in the worst case, no data at all for a user.
To deal with the time it takes to receive data, we make requests for data throughout the day. This means that when you log into the app you won’t see fully up to date data, but you should see data from within the past few hours.
We’re working closely with N3rgy to constantly improve how requests are sent to each meter based on that individual meter’s history of responding. Meters that don’t respond to larger requests are sent smaller requests but more frequently. Meters that only respond occasionally are sent multiple requests until a successful response is received. With each meter added we get a better understanding of how best to make these requests and we’re getting better as we learn.
Our aim is to get as close as possible to the service you get from other apps on your phone, like fitness or banking apps, where your data is available almost instantly.
How’s it gone?
We’ve been blown away by the interest in Loop generated by adding smart meter compatibility. We’ve seen strong customer growth throughout the Beta phase.
We’ve built a huge amount of knowledge around how the smart meter network works, and we’ve got better and better at accessing data reliably. We would never have made this progress if we’d not launched early.
On a personal note, I’ve loved engaging with our customers and hearing their thoughts on what Loop should do next. Gas support is top of the list, but we’ve also had brilliant ideas on extending and improving our solar simulation, from supporting more complex roofs through to forecasting how an electric car and a solar installation could work together.
With COP26 in Glasgow and huge energy price rises taking place during the Beta, it’s been fascinating to talk to our customers about how they see their energy use. Every customer we’ve talked to wants to do the right thing for the environment but it has to make sense financially. Customers appreciate how Loop can help them understand their energy use but want more help moving to a low carbon home in an affordable way. We’ve started to tell that story through our net-zero journey tool, and we’ll bring more of this into our product over the coming months.
Firstly, I should say what’s happened since June: we’ve simplified the smart meter signup, improved data quality across the board and launched an initial gas product to a select few customers. It’s a lot for a small team in only a few months!
We’re now focused on getting gas into the app. With your gas data we will show you how to use less gas - can you run your boiler at a lower temperature, heat fewer rooms at different times, or make cheap efficiency improvements?
What if I want to get off gas completely? Loop will be the app for that too - by analysing your gas data we can give advice on whether you’re ready for a heat pump or if you need to make other changes first.
Beyond gas, we’re looking at the whole house. If I’m getting an electric car but also want solar, what’s the best way of making a systematic decision? What if I can run all my appliances at cheap times, should I consider switching to a tariff that’s cheaper overnight? Energy’s becoming greener but more complicated. Loop will help you make the right decisions at the right time.
It’s been fun getting smart meter Beta out and seeing customers use and engage with Loop and the whole team’s excited to take it to the next level.
About the author
Steve Buckley is in charge of product direction at Loop and has been with Loop since it was founded. He has a background in statistics and data science and has worked at multiple successful startups.
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