PRESS RELEASE: A domestic demand response game currently being trialled in the North East of England by GenGame, Open Energi and Northern Powergrid has proven its potential to significantly boost consumer engagement with energy and free up capacity on the UK grid.

GenGame and Open Energi are now halfway through a three-year project with Northern Powergrid, which is co-funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, and Northern Powergrid themselves.

Customer-take up has been impressive, with over 100 homes signing up within the first three days of GenGame’s product going live across the North East, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire.  Certain households have offered over 50% of their load for direct control. The project has also resulted in surprising levels of engagement in order to win, with people allowing their games consoles, TV’s, EV’s and even hot tubs to be turned off whilst in use.

Consumer engagement with energy has traditionally been very low. According to OFGEM and DMGT, 50% of UK bill payers admit they either do not read their electricity bill statements, don’t open them or have never supplied a meter reading. A recent uSwitch/Opimium survey suggests that 70% of all UK 18-35 year olds only read the total bill amount.

Given the fact that 65% of UK 18-35 year olds spend an average of 14 hours per week playing games (IAB research), gamification of energy presents a promising route for engagement. If the same number of people in the UK played The GenGame as Pokémon Go, the game could potentially free up 500MW of capacity on the Grid, enough to power 1.1 million homes.

The project began four years ago when GenGame’s founders bid for and won an InnovateUK award to encourage domestic demand side response (DSR) participation.

When Northern Powergrid learnt about the project, it began working with GenGame to see how it could help the utility manage localised issues and avoid unnecessary network upgrades – for instance specific network reinforcements or installation of a new transformer.

GenGame partnered with Open Energi to understand the mechanics of DSR, to identify the right routes to market and to provide a means for aggregating capacity at scale.

To enable the game to sync with domestic appliances, GenGame has used self-install smart plugs in participants’ homes to enable them to control appliances remotely.

Participants win points for their available energy load and can be called on a couple of times a week, via push notifications through the GenGame app, to reduce their demand at times of value to Northern Powergrid. Players also have the option to automate demand reductions.

Players track their progress via the app, complete achievements and compete with one another for cash prizes, high street vouchers, or can donate their points to charity.

The approach to the trial has been iterative, with participants recruited in stages via social media and by engaging with local community groups, and refinements to the platform carried out on a continuous basis. There are currently around 400 people signed up to the game, but the group plans to recruit another 600 players across the Northern Powergrid region to test a new version of their app next year.

Stephane Lee-Favier, Managing Director at GenGame says: “Our goal is for people to be drawn to TheGenGame for fun first. We focus on building a product that looks and feels like a mobile game rather than a traditional utility engagement app. The results we’re seeing in terms of how players are changing their electricity use to win, and success we’ve had recruiting players for our closed trials through digital marketing tells us we’re on the right track.”

Chris Kimmett, Commercial Manager at Open Energi says: “Using over 5 years of data from working with National Grid to deliver demand response from all kinds of equipment, Open Energi has modelled flexibility in the UK’s energy use to reveal an estimated 6GW of flexible demand that could be invisibly shifted during peak periods to provide capacity when it is most needed. A total 3.2GW of this peak flexibility comes from domestic users, so the potential for domestic DSR to deliver essential capacity to the grid is already huge.”

Andrew Webster, Innovation Project Engineer at Northern Powergrid, said: “Northern Powergrid is part funding the development of GenGame as part our Activating Community Engagement (ACE) project, trialling methods to attract “communities” of GenGamers. Through playing the GenGame, our customers and local communities have been able to take part in this fun, engaging and innovative energy gaming concept with some winning vouchers and cash prizes in the process. The trials are generating valuable insights into domestic demand side response (DSR) potential for Northern Powergrid and how GenGame could be used to address localised network constraints.”

Having proven the concept, GenGame is now looking to develop the commercial model for UK energy suppliers as well as DNOs. They have integrated the platform to work with smart meter data to remove any upfront hardware costs and are planning to trial this new version early next year.

While GenGame’s immediate focus is the UK market, there is longer term potential to expand the approach internationally.