Virtual energy trainer that helps monitor and plans your energy consumptions
Redeveloping the area of Sesto San Giovanni into the new “smart city” by focusing on the topic of energy for the future.
Our team developed and pitched Sinergia to MilanoSesto stakeholders, developers, and their partners. I was responsible for conducting user research, designing the mobile application, and building the Sinergia system.
Our project was awarded "Most Pragmatic."
Digital Product & Service Designer
Carlotta Ritella, Lucia Gualdi, Xiao Qing Wan
2019 - 2020
this is your energy bill.
Can you understand it?
Energy bills can be intimidating and difficult to read. You want to consume less energy, but you forget and exceed your consumption. It is challenging to view energy as a tangible value.
Image from DTE Energy website
How can we change the way people view their energy?
EMPATHIZE & DEFINE
Understanding the context
To start off, we need to understand the context of Sesto San Giovanni and smart cities. We visited the area and examined the space and environment. We studied the socio-economic of residents living in Sesto. We noticed a lack of infrastructure connectivity between the new and old Sesto neighborhoods. Most of the residents relied on the limited bus and train stations to commute to Milan.
Stakeholders of the MilanoSesto project explained that MilanoSesto will be a human-centered environment. The main focus is on people and community.
"All the opportunities and services offered by the new smart city should be designed to promote a sense of belonging while building relationships and bending culture and opportunities."
Forecasting smart city trends
We researched case studies and smart city trends that could affect future residents living in these smart cities. We researched relevant topics such as sustainability, transportation, infrastructure, and emerging technologies. We discovered the future of smart cities will encounter problems in popular growth, aging, and urbanization. This can increase traffic, air pollution, and climate change. If Sesto becomes the next smart city, it will need to develop sustainable services and systems that focus on community and infrastructures.
We landed on the topic of energy. We saw it as a connection between the community, sustainability, and infrastructures of a smart city. We decided to research further into this topic. How will energy look like for the future of smart cities?
Energy for the future of smart cities
Understanding the energy market
Our team conducted desk research by gathering articles and scientific research that explains the emerging trends in the energy market. We wanted to understand more about how the energy market works and the pain points users face when dealing with energy. Thus, we can ask the right questions when gathering quantitative and qualitative data. We identified 5 trends in the energy market.
Market towards customer experience
Democratization- the new energy value
Monitoring vampire appliances
Blockchain in energy communities
Conducting user research
From our desk research, we were able to ask users questions on energy, sustainability, and their experience dealing with their energy bills. We surveyed over 100 people living in Milan and found that 68% of respondents were between the age of 18 to 24. We discovered:
66% of people say they don't manage their energy bills by themselves.
61% of people say they focus on money when reviewing their energy bills.
35% of Millenials want to learn how to save energy.
43% of students are interested but not active towards sustainability.
How may we help train people to better monitor and plan their energy consumption?
Future of energy concept
A service that provides a new transparent way to use and reuse energy for the community neighborhood of Sesto San Giovanni. It allows users to monitor domestic energy consumption and avoid waste. It challenges users to consume less energy.
Encourage people to be active and aware of their energy consumption.
Create strong sustainable communities.
Reduce waste of energy and environmental impact
2. Energy monitoring
Real-time monitoring of energy consumption on the digital platform.
1. Energy package
Choose a customized package that provides a fixed amount of energy monthly.
3. Energy reuse
Convert saved energy into points and access sustainable services.
The user can choose a customized package that provides a fixed amount of energy every month.
Using a digital system, the user is able to monitor the energy consumption on the home appliances in real-time.
The energy saved is converted into points and can be used to access sustainable services and rewards.
Co-design: Testing our concept with users, stakeholders, and experts.
The energy market is complex and we needed to understand it better. Our team conducted 3 co-design workshops. We used different tools and methods for each workshop depending on the participants and our goal. Each co-design was very insightful and helped refine our concept for testing.
Co-design 1: Users
Co-design 2: Experts & Stakeholders
Co-design 3: Users
Explore the relationship between the users and their energy experience.
Test our concept in three phases (assessment, monitoring, and reuse) and understand the current and future energy market.
Test our service in the three phases: assessment, monitoring, and reuse of energy.
Test initial concept
Monitoring & planning
Energy converted for points
Test redefined concept
Energy for entire condominiums
Monitoring & planning
Energy converted for community benefits
Test final concept
Energy package for the entire community
Monitoring and planning
Energy converted for community benefits
Meritocracy in sharing consumption
Awareness of energy consumption
Instability against sustainability
Customization, monitoring, and control
From individual to the community
Privacy as common good
Feedbacks to show energy impact
Neighborhood rather than condominium
Final concept: an energy community
After months of research and co-design sessions, we settled the concept of an energy community. It is a group of actors (private and/or public) that work together to develop high levels of smart energy supply. Thus, achieving economic and sustainable benefits and energy security. It is a system based on a shared and sustainable approach to energy that becomes a social aggregator for citizens.
Therefore, we developed Sinergia.
energy community system, a shared and sustainable approach to energy
What is Sinergia?
Sinergia is a virtual energy trainer that allows people to monitor and plan their energy consumptions.
Product and Service
Through the Sinergia app, the user will be able to monitor, track and plan their energy in real-time. The energy saved converts into energy coins. This can be used to access sustainable services and support community projects. On the Sinergia app, we provide two main offerings: energy training plan and energy reuse.
Users living in the energy community
Our team should be on the same page and understand whom our targeted users are living in MilanoSesto. Interviews and the co-design sessions helped us identify our key users. We defined these three user personas so our team understood our users and what are their needs, experiences, and goals for energy consumption.
The reckless student
Student renting an apartment
Lives with 2 other students
The motivated activist
The guardian mother
Working as a freelancer and travels often
Lives by himself in a studio apartment
Part-time working mother
Lives in a house with her two children
Husband travels often for work
Goals & needs
Reduce energy consumption to save money
Understand the value of energy
Consume energy equally with roommates
Seeks guidance to control his energy
Participate in energy community growing
Management of appliances when she's not home
Educate her children about sustainable behaviors
Difficult managing auto produced energy
Inflexible energy contracts
Feels alone in his sustainable lifestyle
Managing shared appliances with roommates
Feels ignorant about his energy consumptions
Unexpected costs on his energy bills
No time to monitor her children's energy consumptions
Difficult reading energy bills
Unexpected costs on her energy bills
Our research shows that in 2030, the electricity demand will increase by 20% and one-third of it will be produced by condominiums. Future cities will need to find new systems to manage their energy consumption. That is why Sinergia is an important service. It is a new transparent way to use and reuse energy for the community neighborhood of the future.
world population will live in cities
global emissions are from cities
increase in electricity use
Sinergia's goal is to empower and raise awareness of behavioral change in energy efficiency at the individual level. The vision is to enhance a sustainable, inclusive, and proactive energy community. Sinergia provides community activities and tools for people to play an active role in their neighborhood.
IDEATE & PROTOTYPE
Our goal is to help users monitor their energy consumption. We choose a mobile app because it's a low-barrier medium for users to access. We created 4 core features: Assessment, Monitoring, Planning, and Reuse. I created a user flow to help our team define which features are important for our users' needs and goals. We went through weeks of brainstorming to decide on core features to keep.
Initially, the visual design was inspired by neomorphic designs. It was aesthetically nice but compromised the usability of the app. We discarded that idea and built a more intuitive flow. Using Invision, I wireframed the most important screens that met our users' needs. The goal is to help them consume less energy and see their sustainable impact on their community.
The Sinergia app is the core of our service. It functions as a tool for users can monitor, control, and reduce their energy consumption at home. The users can also convert their saved energy into digital coins. The coins can be used to access sustainable services, products and support community projects.
Customize your energy package
Through an assessment, Sinergia calculates a monthly energy package based on users’ needs.
Monitor and plan your energy consumption
You can monitor home appliances and your energy consumption in real-time. The app will provide a strategic plan that analyzes external factors, such as weather forecasts and the price of energy on the market, and internal factors from your calendar. You can even plan and share your energy consumption with other housemates. You can set a time to turn off their appliances or control them remotely.
Reuse your energy for social impact
Sinergia offers the possibility to convert saved energy into digital energy coins. You can use the coins to access services, such as local electric services, sustainable businesses, and workshops. You can also use the coins and invest in community projects for the future energy community of MilanoSesto.
We successfully presented Sinergia to MilanoSesto stakeholders and developers. Our project received positive feedback from our users, peers, and stakeholders. We were awarded the "Most Pragmatic" project, received a prize of €500.00, and featured in an Italian newspaper, "Il Giorno." We also had the opportunity to pitch our project to MilanoSesto's partner company that specializes in energy.
Blockchain for decentralized energy
We learned a lot about energy. This project is super exciting. It has the potential to use blockchain as a tool to manage, verify and record energy transactions between energy prosumers and consumers. This means a decentralized smart grid can distribute and sell energy within a community.
Better content organization after each co-design
We had a very short amount of time to conduct 3 co-design sessions. After every co-design session, we would iterate our concept and plan to present it for our next co-design session. It'd be helpful to plan out a structure on how to map out our insights.
Collect more feedback; prepare for redesign
When we tested the paper prototype of the app, a few users expressed how the flow was long and overwhelming. Our next steps will be to collect more user feedback (qualitative and quantitative data) and iterate on our product.
Understanding the energy market and technicalities
Trying to understand the decentralized energy market, and the smart grid was challenging. Our service required in-depth research of how the technical side of the energy market. Can energy be exchanged? How can blockchain on a decentralized smart grid? Can energy be individually controlled? Is it possible to convert energy into a digital currency?
Language barrier during co-design
We had to organize the co-design workshops in Italian to speed up the session. It also helps users and stakeholders feel more comfortable participating in the discussions. Only two team members were native Italian speakers, so they were responsible for facilitating. Though I am still a beginner in Italian, it was difficult to follow. Our teammates had to translate the recap at the end of each session.
Italy's conservative energy market
Sinergia was positively received by MilanoSesto. However, a few Italian energy companies took a more conservative route. They thought the idea of a decentralized energy system in Italy was too revolutionary.