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 speculative futures 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
Zeroed 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.
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.