Geo's Chief Strategy officer talks to us about the new Cosy 3 and how geo plans to help people cut their energy consumption by a whacking two-thirds
What’s Geo all about?
“At geo our aim is to help people become more energy efficient in their home. Whilst technology is part of this, our view is that consumer engagement is key. Therefore our focus is on the user experience and making the technology accessible and desirable. Our motivation is all about sustainability – a sustainable business helping to deliver a sustainable planet.”
Who are you targeting the Cosy at?
“End-users. It is a consumer product. However, our primary route to market is through energy retailers. We think of this as an alternative to retailers and, at this early stage in the market we believe it is a far more effective way of generating early volume. There is more relevance and a better opportunity to explain the product and its benefits than on a retailer’s shelf.”
How aware do you think consumers are about energy efficiency and what could be better?
“Consumers are well aware of energy efficiency but the problem is understanding how to achieve it. Energy efficiency is a key consideration when buying a car as it is made easy for a user to understand it and to buy into it – it comes as a package. In contrast, in the home it is up to the user to put all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together. It is all about “behaviour change” whereas in a car the technology does it for the user. We need to get to the same stage where the home’s technology does it for the user and all the user needs to do is buy into it.”
How would you describe the benefits of the Cosy in a world with energy prices falling and climate change, while a growing concern, still a relatively abstract one at the moment?
“The benefit of Cosy is affordable comfort – you can afford to heat your home when you need to because you are not heating it when you are not there.
“We all realize that leaving our heating on all day everyday is wasteful and expensive so we have controllers. However, these controllers are difficult to manage and any changes have to be made in the home. Cosy is about making it simpler to control your heating so you aren’t heating your home when you don’t need to. So simplicity = affordable comfort.”
Can you put a figure on the types of energy saving, say, three different kinds of household might see over time?
“Following on from the last point our advice is to think about how often you heat your home when you don’t need to. For example; you have gone to bed early but haven’t turned the heating off; you are away for the weekend but have left the heating on so your home is warm when you get back; you are staying out after work but your heating comes on at 5pm as programmed…
“So, if you think this happens roughly 10% of the time then you could make roughly 10% saving – if it is 20% of the time then you could make a 20% saving and so on.”
How do you see yourselves against competing products like Nest? What does Cosy do differently/better, given you are similarly priced?
“Our aim is simplicity – we think we do that better. For example our data shows that our customers use the portable display twice as often as the mobile app to control their heating. It is so much easier to sit in your chair watching TV and lean across to your display to give the heating a boost than it is to find your mobile…
“The simplicity also extends to the installation. We also do not replace anything so there are decoration issues and the peace of mind, that, if anything goes wrong for any reason, the user can revert to manual controls as before.”
How well does Cosy play with other smart home tech? What standards and protocols do you support?
“At present, it doesn’t. This is a very pragmatic approach. Long experience in this sector has shown that interoperability is very hard to achieve as the protocols are still evolving. We use an 868MHz protocol called Legato. It is simple, reliable and has good proven range. We have around 2m devices in the field using it without issues. It is a protocol we developed and are willing to licence to others. We will move to an open protocol when one becomes mainstream and widely adopted. For now we integrate third party data in the cloud.”
You’ve worked closely with the utilities in the past to provide smart meters. What’s been the pros and cons of that approach from your point of view and what’s motivating going direct to consumers?
“The pros have been volume, less margin dilution and lower direct marketing costs. The cons have been a limited number of customers and the long – sometimes very long – sales process.
“When we started the Energy Retailers were prepared to buy a product “off-plan”. Now, as there several competing products on the market, they wish to buy proven products that have already been developed, deployed and are successful. We therefore have to sell direct to prove our products and to recoup development costs.”
You mention the importance of data. How do you address increasing concerns about data security around your smart tech, especially as the category grows and data becomes more valuable?
“One way is by retaining control over all the elements in the system. Also, not using an open protocol that is widely published and understood has security benefits. We use encryption and main stream data businesses that understand and can deploy far more sophisticated security systems than a small business could ever hope to provide.
“As a business we have taken the effort to become ISO 27001 certified (data security) and use this as a means to continuously improve our protections. (We also have ISO 9001 (Quality) and 14001 (Environment) certifications). Nevertheless, this is a very important issue and one that needs constant attention.”
You mention reducing energy consumption by 2/3rds in 10 years? That’s a big number that presumably means more than energy monitoring- can you illustrate the kind of stepping stones involved in that?
“This is with regard to our Hybrid Home proposition where the integration of smart metering, microgeneration, battery storage, heat storage and heating controls being able to reduce electricity bills by 2/3rds. We also see this being applied to new homes many of which will be Passive Homes and therefore use electricity for heating.”
The IOD has recently said that government’s smart meter scheme was a bit of a mess, being behind schedule and utilising out of date tech. What’s your view on the scheme and what needs to be done better?
“The UK government should be applauded for taking a different approach to smart metering and putting consumers at the centre of the programme. As a result all 27m homes will be given the benefit of direct energy feedback which will go a long way towards initiating the energy efficiency revolution this country requires.
“This inevitably will be different and attract additional costs than the basic meter replacement programmes other countries have carried out and which aren’t all that smart! Compared to many other government and private ICT programmes this one is reasonably well on track.
“In short, we believe the IoD is wrong, has been quite selective in the sources it has used and have discussed this with them.”