For a monthly fee of AUD$15, Amber Electric customers can access real-time wholesale electricity prices and benefit from using power when cheap renewables are generating. In a market where prices can fluctuate widely between minus AUD$1,000 and a premium of AUD$15,000, customers using electricity at the right time can reap real financial rewards.
Amber was born out of discussions which occurred while both founders were taking some time out. Chris Thompson had been living in Iran, building an ecommerce company for two years. He joined the company at an early stage and saw the team grow to 400 people which gave him valuable exposure to startup culture and the challenges of rapid growth. Many of the lessons learned during this period built the foundations of Amber.
Dan Adams had worked in renewables in one form or another for 12 years. His desire to make a positive impact was there from an early age. At just 19-years-old, he was instrumental in organising the Make Poverty History concert here in Australia. After studying aerospace engineering, Adams designed wind turbines before joining the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) where he met his future co-founder, Thompson.
Adams and Thompson are using technology to assist customers, through the Amber app, to access real-time prices and make smarter decisions about their usage. When the wholesale price is much higher than usual, they can shift their usage to cheaper times. The app also shows what percentage of renewables is in the customer’s portion of the grid and a forecast of prices for the next 12 hours.
What do customers think? Thompson says, “[Energy retailers] insist customers want a simple electricity bill; they don’t want to think about it or engage”. The pair suspected this wasn’t true and have been proved right. Two thirds of Amber customers check the app every day and have greater flexibility to manage their usage.
Amber is developing their own technology to support automated consumption called SmartShift™, currently being trialled with eligible customers in South Australia. Although Thompson and Adams believe automation will be a significant part of consumption shifting, they have been amazed at how effective it is for customers to engage manually by using the app, hence the high levels of uptake.
They have worked on other immediate ways to provide convenience to their customers: on the days when price spikes are forecasted, Amber sends push notifications and emails to encourage customers to shift their non-essential usage. But there are still financial incentives every day for customers to do the washing or run the dishwasher when cheaper, renewable energy is available. A survey of customers showed that the majority are motivated to sign up because of the combined financial and environmental impact the service can have on their lives.
So where to from here? Thompson says, “We’ve always been clear that we are very ambitious and we think this is the model of the future”. Ultimately, Amber’s vision is a world where millions of devices in people’s homes work together to support the growth of renewables and a rapid move to a zero carbon grid.
This seems like a win-win for the consumer and the future of renewable energy: offering households and the environment a better deal.