27 Oct Q&A with Freddie Tilbrook from the Energy Innovation Centre
As Project Futurewave approaches the end of Phase 2, we caught up with Project Lead, Freddie Tilbrook, to reflect on the progress to date and what the future holds.
How has Phase 2 gone?
I’m confident it’s been a big success – in just five months we have created a prototype of the tool that has the potential to engage communities and to change the way they think and behave in relation to their energy. The whole project team – from the network operators to the developers and designers – have worked incredibly hard to bring a prototype to life for customers to engage with. The big step change in the next phase will be shifting our mindset from funding a project to funding a business.
What big learnings have you picked up along the way?
Many people out there are trying to solve the ‘energy trilemma’ and lots of investment is going into different solutions but as an industry we haven’t cracked the challenge of changing the way consumers think about their energy. There is so much investment going into energy infrastructure and technology and creating great solutions for our customers. But we also need customers to understand the breadth of different options available to them, and to know how to bring them to life in their homes and communities.
What we’ve managed to do in a relatively short space of time with Futurewave is to create a marketplace for all these options to sit – providing clear and actionable solutions for customers. We’ve demonstrated that we can change customer behaviour by educating users about energy options and empowering them with the immediate ability to take action based on that knowledge, however we still have work to do to create a product and brand that our users trust.
What have the key challenges been?
There have been many challenges, but three that really stand out;
- Engaging communities: Early on, we knew we wanted people to work together to meet their energy needs, rather than in isolation. However, going down the traditional ‘community energy’ route wouldn’t work because too much work had to be done off the platform, over too long a timescale to build real traction with users. We have solved this by connecting community minded users with those who have more insular motivations to build initiatives for all the individuals in the community, and keep people coming back to the platform.
- Simplifying the user experience: Our ambition is to educate and build traction with users so that they can make an educated decision on the best energy solutions for their homes. This has meant sacrificing some accuracy in our data model and we are on a continuous journey to understand what ‘accurate enough’ looks like to help users take action, and to ensure we maintain credibility as an organisation.
- Building a business model that maintains the business: Our ambition is to set up as a not for profit organisation, but we still have to make money to survive. The platform can provide value to many users in many different ways and trust has been lost in the past, however we have found a model that resonates with Build It partners and can scale as the business grows.
Have you learnt anything that has surprised you?
One lightbulb moment was when we realised that there are actually two different types of users. There are the community ‘champions’ who want to get a community initiative off the ground and the householder who will be interested in saving cash on their energy bills or making their homes warmer. In the platform, we have managed to connect these users to ensure we are always creating the best solutions for users. This way, an individual will not act alone if it is more beneficial for them to act with their community.
Where have you drawn inspiration from along the journey?
We have learnt a lot from others who have gone before us – taking particular guidance from businesses outside the sector, such as AirBnb, and Zopa, to see how to engage with users in a completely new industry that doesn’t exist today.
What does the next phase hold in store?
We’re calling it the pilot phase because it’s really ‘year 0’ of the business – we’ll be working closely with three or four communities to run that pilot and to understand which components work, what we need to improve and what we need to change completely. We will create the minimum viable product and assess individual components with live projects to test the hypothesis behind the product and the business. The networks are keen to get this up and running so there is some real support behind it. For the core team and myself, it’s hugely exciting and our job now is to show the rest of the industry why we are so excited.