Back to home



Energy chatbot helping you take simple, cheap energy saving actions.

The Challenge
Islington’s Housing Operations Service recognised a need to become a ‘people centred and preventive service platform’, and they wanted to ‘redesign their frontline housing service and create new and better ways of engaging with their residents.’ This was a project I undertook with a group of 4 other students from Royal College of Art. We knew that as part of Islington’s Housing Strategy they needed to decrease fuel poverty, so we set about researching how we could redesign Islington’s energy services.

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. Fuel poverty is caused by the combination of 3 factors; low energy efficiency, low income, or high energy costs.

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: increase energy efficiency, maximise income, or lower energy costs. Many of those actions were simple; for instance switching to energy saving light bulbs or using the boiler timer. Those actions could be taken by residents, partners, carers, neighbours, rather than just the energy experts operating in Islington. Along with the client we felt that digital services could play a part in scaling up Islington’s energy support.

How might we use digital tools to increase the reach of Islington’s successful energy support services?

As a group we saw 4 different ways to tackle these issues. The first, by creating a digital database that could be accessed anywhere to carry out quick and easy referrals to those energy support services. We had discovered that the lengthy referral process was stopping front line workers from providing energy support.

We also created a tailored platform that offered personalised energy support; not just for residents but also for the people who cared for them. Peer to peer had a large effect on people’s energy behaviour, so the platform also encorporated tips from neighbours.

How might we develop a digital tool that allowed residents to carry out energy saving actions in their homes, so that they can forget about energy bills?

I concentrated on developing 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. First you receive actions that you can do now, and then 3 weeks later to receive more energy saving actions.

The Team
Peer to peer platform: Federico Carbo
Referral system: Xiaoyi Hu
Energy Islington platform: Bethan Mitchel
Ray: Charlotte Fountaine

The Impact
Ray was shown to the head of energy support services at Islington Council, a housing operations manager and the head of communications. 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, 3 people said they wouldn’t follow any of them. People trusted Ray, as almost everyone said that they felt that the energy saving actions would bring their bills down.

‘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 from the Bromley by Bow center

‘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

‘The language actually felt like a human being!’
Gabe, Islington Resident