Green Tech South West welcomed Vanessa (Co-Founder) at Greener Hours, to tell us how the app Greener Hours is helping to change daily behaviours to use energy when it’s cleanest.
Can you tell us more about what the Greener Hours app does and how it works?
Vanessa: We’re on a mission to help people use energy when it’s clean. And not when it’s not.
Greener Hours is a consumer app that provides a real-time, low-carbon energy forecast, empowering people to choose to use electricity in their home when it’s cleanest (ie from renewable sources).
We were surprised to find out from our consumer research that not everyone knows that the energy flowing into their homes is from a mix of sources that varies throughout the day. In fact, our research showed that even those people who have chosen a green tariff don’t always realise that their electricity is not constantly renewable – some hadn’t understood that even on an “100% renewable” tariff their electricity would always be the same as their neighbour’s.
Whatever tariff we’re on, Greener Hours means we can switch-on appliances (such a washing machines, dishwashers and plug in EVs) at times that are better for the planet. The app provides a graph, showing you exactly when the carbon intensity in your home changes, sending you notifications so you can plan your electricity use, and gives you points for choosing the best times. As Greener Hours grows these points will go towards local green causes.
Never has putting the wash on felt so good!
How did you come up with the idea?
Vanessa: To be honest, this isn’t the first idea we’ve come up with to help change energy use habits. When I first became a Mum I was stunned by the enormous increase in my carbon footprint, and started to look for solutions. Fortunately (for the world!) most of my ideas have never seen the light of day and it’s really my Co-founder (and husband!), Guy, who is a behavioural scientist, so is the brains behind Greener Hours.
What role does behavioural science play?
Vanessa: We at Greener Hours are working to address the fundamental need to foster mass scale behaviour change to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets in the fight against climate change. In 2019, The Climate Change Committee estimated that to reach net zero, 62% of emissions reductions need to come from individual choices and behaviour. To us, in energy, it seems there is still so much work to be done on this demand side, to engage people and change habits. The tech to revolutionize the supply side of energy is progressing at an incredible rate – burgeoning renewable capability, battery storage, heat pumps, smart thermostats….the list goes on. However, unless we engage the public and change behaviour, we’ll never reach net zero. We often say tech doesn’t disrupt markets, behaviour does, and this so clearly applies to energy and decarbonisation.
So our approach is to put behavioural science at the core of our product. We need people to change their habits around filling up their EVs, and not just cling on to the habits formed from decades of re-fuelling a combustion engine. Our research showed that presenting users with just a carbon intensity graph will never engage them or persuade them to change. We want people to get in the routine of checking our forecast before using electricity at home, just like they might check the weather forecast before getting dressed. So our plan is to use behavioural mechanisms to incentivise and motivate. Most of these planned for the app are yet to be pushed out (our product is still a work-in-progress). But we’re firm believers in behavioural science being the missing link, providing a bridge between the tech’ and consumer behaviour change.
It looks like the app incorporates gamification with the collection of points to gain rewards, can you tell us more?
Vanessa: Greener Hours Points are awarded for using electricity when carbon intensity is at its lowest during the day – ie. during the “Greener Hour”.
You get points for both shifting the use of your appliances to the Greener Hour (or close to) and for making a commitment in the app to make the shift. You can also earn points for referring friends to the app, and then if they start moving their appliances too, you pick-up additional points. The app recognizes the value of not just our behaviour at home, but our networks and our potential to bring our friends along. So in that respect, Greener Hours is a bit like LinkedIn for washing machines!
Greener Hours Points will soon be able to be spent on prosocial benefits, such a local green causes of your choice, and on products and services that can help you save even more carbon in your daily routines. We know from behavioural science that points systems and incentives can be highly effective, but that they can also have a string of unintended consequences. So we’re being very careful to stress the ‘social benefit’ of earning Greener Hour points.
What are your plans for the year ahead?
Vanessa: Greener Hours is a very young startup, our product is still an MVP, so the focus for us remains on developing it, keeping behavioural science at its core. We can see exactly what needs to be done and have woven the feedback from our consumer trials into our plans, so we’re very excited to move forward. To do this, we’re looking to raise more funds, both through grants and angel investment. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have had support from Pete Keevil and Tim Morgan through the Bath University STBAH programme, and we are now also getting support through Matt Tudge and Kim Howat from Business West. We find the local tech ecosystem is incredibly supportive, and are really proud that our first pioneering trial groups have been Bristol/ Bath based. We are also really grateful to GreenTech South West, not only for the fantastic meetups throughout lockdown, but for the number of people from the group who have volunteered to be part of our user trials – so much to be thankful for!
Thank You Vanessa for the chat.