Fuel poverty is defined as being when 10% or more of a household’s income is being spent on energy. This means £1 in every £10 of a household income is going on energy. Despite Islington one of London’s wealthier boroughs, roughly 10.8% of the population were living in fuel poverty when statistics were collected in 2013. That’s more than 20,000 people in a single London borough unable to adequately and heat their homes.
Islington offers some of London’s best energy support services, this support is mainly being delivered over the phone or face to face to residents. The services offer a number of energy actions which can be taken to either:
Many of those actions are simple: switching to energy saving light bulbs or using the boiler timer. These actions can be taken by residents, carers, neighbours, rather than just the energy experts operating in Islington.
I identified that digital services could play a part in scaling-up Islington’s energy support. This was a project I undertook with a group of 3 other students from Royal College of Art.
‘The tone of voice and ease of use were spot on and the advice given was not overwhelming or complicated which I liked. The simple memorable actions mean that I really will do them, and I'm normally really lazy with this stuff.’ Miranda, Islington Resident.
I developed Ray, an energy chatbot that allows people to take simple easy energy saving actions in their own homes. Ray aims to increase the independence of residents and allow them the luxury of not having to think about their energy bills. It became clear from our ethnographic research that many people did not understand their energy bills or know how to make their homes energy efficient. People also didn’t feel confident using their energy controls; boiler timers and radiators.
I created a fully functioning prototype of Ray, that could be used on Facebook. I chose a platform that residents are already using, so they wouldn’t have to feel like they were using a council service. Ray asks residents about their energy usage, then provides simple actions they can do in the home.
‘It’s segmentation in a way because these are the people we don’t typically speak to. They’re not going to talk to us, but they might use this.’ John, Head of Energy Support Services, Islington Council.
‘The language actually felt like a human being!’ Gabe, Islington Resident
27 residents used the first prototype of Ray. Of the 13 residents who provided feedback; 10 people said they would follow Ray’s energy actions. People trusted Ray, almost everyone said that they felt that the energy saving actions would bring their bills down. Ray was a provocation for Islington Council to understand how their energy services could be delivered in a digitally enabled way. Ray was shown to the head of energy support services at Islington Council, a housing operations manager and the head of communications.