A forward-thinking mobile app connected to the “smart” electrical grid
The climate crisis is the biggest social, political, and business problem that we currently face. So what better opportunity is there to imagine new design solutions than with how we interact with our Earth? For this hypothetical UX/UI project, I created a mobile app for the electrical grid, which currently accounts for 28% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
In the next decade, energy will shift from fossil fuels to electricity as electric vehicles (EVs) and rooftop solar panels become more commonplace. This transition will put pressure on public utilities to upgrade the infrastructure and business practices of the grid. And the increasing sophistication of mobile devices, machine learning, and the Internet of Things will lead to greater efficiencies that decentralize the grid and lower carbon emissions.
In this scenario, the main hindrance to this progress — the regulatory market for individuals buying and selling distributed energy resources — has been worked out, allowing for live cryptocurrency transactions on a truly “smart” grid. The app (m.power) allows you to connect to your utility account and EV, order a smart thermostat, connect with the best vendors to install rooftop solar, control your own energy consumption, and sell your stored energy to your neighbors or to your utility company.
Role: solo project
Tools: Sketch and InVision
eroed in on a SaaS business opportunity in an emerging market
Developed a forward-thinking design solution for social and climate impact
Competitive analysis and market research
To generate ideas for features, I researched the offerings of existing apps using machine learning, the Internet of Things, rooftop solar design, and geospatial mapping to tackle smart grid problems (OhmConnect, StationA, Sighten, Powerhive). I read articles and listened to podcasts to identify recent breakthroughs, opportunities, and challenges of releasing and distributed energy solutions at scale (Green Tech Media, The Interchange, Resources Radio).
I followed the trail of political action around the Green New Deal, specifically the leadership of city and state governments in the just transition to 100% renewable energy (Sierra Club). Through this online research, I identified the common advocates of innovation in this market, from resident and business consumers to politicians and public utilities. I created a set of five assumption-based user personas to start the process of empathizing with users.
Pru the Prosumer
- Currently spending too much money on energy that’s coming from dirty sources
- Doesn’t have a lot of capital to invest in energy infrastructure
- Manages two store locations and doesn’t have a lot of time to do research on the best options
- To reduce her monthly energy bill
- To find an affordable solution for power her business and neighborhood with renewable energy
- To increase her community’s resiliency in the face of climate change
Lewis the Low-Carbon Leader
- Learning curve for his finance team to get up to speed on energy market transactions
- Difficulty finding commercial real estate that matches his company’s growth needs
- The high cost of energy, building construction, and maintenance
- Temporary loss of usable working space to construction
- To reduce his company’s monthly energy bill
- To ensure seamless operations without power outages
- To participate in the negawatt market
- To demonstrate the company’s corporate social responsibility to investors
- To position himself as a pioneer in clean energy at his company
Irene the Solar Islander
- Lack of central grid connection, and if connected, grid disruption
- High cost of imported fossil fuels that power kerosene lamps
- Government regulations prioritizing home systems over industrial and business systems — making it hard to scale the renewable energy market
- Lack of sufficient financing (local investors have high interest rates and foreign investors aren’t willing to take the risk in developing countries)
- Not enough photovoltaic technicians to meet the demand of a growing solar market
- Public health risks and mobility limitations associated with insufficient power supply
- To empower her constituents through access to clean, reliable energy
- To develop Kenyan education, health, and light industries
- To spend less on foreign fossil fuels and use Kenya’s local renewable energy resources
Greg the Green New Dealer
- Climate change denial campaigns that negatively influence popular beliefs about the climate crisis
- Polarized political U.S. political system that gridlocks significant change
- Unclear risks of implementing changes to the electric grid
- To demonstrate his city’s commitment to addressing climate change
- To increase his city’s resiliency in the face of climate change
- To reduce his city’s annual budget designated for powering public buildings
Ulrica the Utilizer
- Finding software partners who can operate on the scale of a utility and navigate the regulatory environment with the same ease
- The slow speed of business for a typical utility against the high speeds of the market and climate change
- To adapt the utility’s business model, practices, and infrastructure for greater efficiency and to meet the increasing demands brought about by climate change
- To modernize the energy grid with smart meters and electric vehicle charging stations
- To mitigate liability costs from a failing electrical system
User flow and minimum viable product (MVP)
By mapping each target user to the key tasks (downloading the app, connecting their your utility. ordering a smart thermostat, connecting with their smart thermostat, setting their home energy preferences, connecting with their EV, searching for solar panel designers, viewing solar panel designs, chatting with support about an issue, paying their utility bill, and referring a friend), I defined the MVP for the app. Whereas corporate and government users would require a white-glove service early on in the experience, Pru the Prosumer could complete each of the tasks autonomously within the app. This insight helped me focus on residential consumers in prototyping and testing.
By testing the mid-fidelity prototype with target users, I identified opportunities to optimize the onboarding, payment, and social referral processes. I designed a high-fidelity prototype that incorporated these improvements.