Best Energy App of 2018: Manage Energy Use on Your Phone

Best Energy app

Could you imagine doing your shopping without Amazon? Finding a cab without using Uber? Or how about buying your music without online streaming services? We continuously use technology in our daily lives, but our utility companies are still stuck in the dark ages. Ancient meters and paper bills need to be made things of the past, and luckily there are some energy companies leading the way and bringing your energy management right to your fingertips.

From the smart meter to the smartphone: technology is coming for your utility company

As far as mobile technology goes, the banking sector has been leading the way for the last five years. In that period of time, there has been a 356% increase in the use of mobile tech, which has made finance available, accessible and customisable. “Fintech” or financial technology has suddenly made finance cool, and customers these days almost never have to step into a bank, wait in a queue, or speak to someone face-to-face. Monzo, for example, is a 100% app based bank which tracks your spending and helps you budget as well.

Utility suppliers have been a little slower on the uptake. Let’s be honest - keeping customers in the dark about their energy bills has been beneficial for some of the big six suppliers over the years. Helping people understand their electricity bills and save money has never really been at the top of the agenda.

However, things have slowly started to change with a wave of energy apps appearing on the market and some online-only suppliers such as Pure Planet cropping up to shake the status quo and bring these dinosaurs of the past in line with our modern habits.

What can you do with your smartphone energy app?

energy apps

Our homes are becoming more and more tech-filled, and it’s never been easier to control the energy we use in our homes. There are hoards of cool gadgets you can use to save energy in your household. That’s why it’s even more imperative that energy apps get a revamp - the power to save money on our bills would literally be in our own hands!

It’s starting to feel much more like the future we imagined in the 1970s and 80s. Systems such as Tado are becoming more common and new energy companies, such as Igloo Energy, are jumping on the bandwagon and offering discounts to customers on Tado products.

These whizzy gadgets mean that you can control the temperature of your house more efficiently - even when you aren’t at home. They can also detect when windows are open or when you leave the house, and automatically adjust settings to make sure that you aren’t wasting energy to save money on your utility bills.

With the new government regulations aimed at making sure everyone has a smart meter in their homes by 2020, you will now be able to see exactly how much you are spending, when you are spending it and even get tips on how to save money right, in the palm of your hand.

So, which are the best energy apps out there? Sadly, the majority of utility apps on the market are abysmal and have abysmal ratings on the app store and google play store. Not only are their interfaces unoriginal and boring, but their user experience also leaves much to be desired.

Red Davis, a freelance app developer, explained to us why he thinks many energy apps aren’t up to scratch. He said, “I think a lot of them are just terribly built and try to do too much (many just jam their website into a mobile app). Sometimes it feels like the companies don't even use their own apps...functionality is not enough by itself, apps should delight their users. This could be something as simple as having a button that turns the phone’s torch on when the user is trying to submit their meter readings, or one better, use OCR to automatically read the numbers off the meter, so the user doesn't even need to type it. It could even be having a dark UI so that the app doesn't blind the user when they're trying to read the meter in a dark cupboard.”

These features will be increasingly important as customers are becoming more demanding with their technology. Energy companies and app developers need to do more to keep up with their needs.

We’ve tried and tested some of the best energy apps out there at the moment for those who just can’t put their phones down.

Npower App

Npower App
Image source: Npower

Npower is currently at the top of the energy app game. Their app has many features which many others lack, making it stand out noticeably from the crowd.

The app itself is great to look at, with a range of personalised themes that customers can choose from. Menus work well with the touchpad on both mobile phones and tablets. Additionally, the user experience in the app is well thought out and easy to navigate. Each new page comes with “handy tips” to help new users get the best out of their Npower app experience.

One of the main features of the app is the personal timeline, which plots readings and shows your billing history. You can tap on events or pinch to zoom, to find out more information about each of the individual events on the timeline.

You can also receive reminders when your tariff is up for renewal, when your bill is ready, and when it’s time to send a meter reading.

Simply put, the app makes managing your energy more straightforward.

Customers can also keep track of how much energy they are using with the energy tracker which displays usage either in pounds or in CO2. This is perfect for budgeting and for those eco-conscious customers who want to reduce their impact on the environment.

One fun addition is the built-in torch for meter readings which means that there is no more fumbling about in the meter cupboard with a flashlight. Small touches like this make customers feel like Npower has thought about their needs and taken them into consideration.

On the downside, the app loads slowly on some Android phones, the only area in which this app doesn’t really shine. This is a bit of a disappointment considering the British smartphone market is made up of 51% Android users. Hopefully, this is something that will be ironed out in further updates of the app.

Overall, the Npower app is a reliable and robust contender. Few technical problems, easy to use interface, funky appearance and some nifty added extras make it a good choice for customers who not only want to track their energy usage but be able to manage it and save money.

Ease of Use Functionality Compatibility Design Selectra Rating
⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 80%

Ovo App

Ovo App
Image source: Ovo

The Ovo app is the workhorse of our selection. While there are no stand-out features like with the Npower app, it does do everything well.

The design is consistent with Ovo’s brand but fails to turn heads, preferring to keep things simple and straightforward with a green and white colour scheme. Much like with Npower, everything works as it should, and it is easy to find what you need.

With the app you can quickly and easily see how much energy you have used and you can submit your meter readings wherever you are. This makes it easier to keep to a budget for the majority of customers.

One thing which does make Ovo stand out is their prepayment app. Boost is a part of the OVO family, which means you’ll still speak to the same award-winning customer service team. However, there will be new phone numbers to call, a cool new website and a unique app for customers who already have a smart meter.

Prepayment customers have traditionally got the short end of the stick when it comes to apps and new technology but with this new brand it's clear to see that Ovo Energy are putting their prepayment customer's needs at the forefront of their minds.

In contrast to the Ovo Energy App, the Boost prepayment app has funky colours and a modern design - a breath of fresh air for prepayment customers who are often left behind in this fast moving market.

We spoke to Katie Russell, head of data and Analytics at Ovo Energy about Ovo’s app and their plans for the future.

Q. What do you think is the most essential function/useful function of your app for customers?

A. It depends on the customer and what are the most important features for them. For example, with the My OVO app customers find it useful to submit their meter readings anytime, anywhere. Whereas other customers like being able to see how much energy they have used.

For Boost customers on Smart PAYG+, the most important function is being able to see their balance and top up anywhere through the Boost app. This means the old way of going to a PayPoint outlet is in the past, making it easier for prepayment customers to manage their gas and electricity better.

Q. What do you think is the future of energy apps? What innovations are you planning to introduce in the future?

A. Energy apps should give customers the tools they need to take control of their energy spend and check their balance while providing innovative features to make lives easier.

Recently Boost launched the new innovative feature called Winter Wallet. The feature gives customers the ability to pay into a savings pot for the winter months and will receive a 5% reward if they reach their target. This means if a customer’s target were £100 they would get an additional £5 added to their Winter Wallet regardless of when they had signed up.

The launch of Winter Wallet strengthens Boost’s ambition to help PAYG customers manage their energy spend throughout the year while also providing another useful feature in the Boost app for customers.

Overall, we’d say Ovo has done a stellar job of making a functional and straightforward app. Our only bugbear would be that what it gains in functionality it loses in style. There aren’t too many bells and whistles, but we’d say that some customers might be looking for them, to go the extra mile.

Ease of Use Functionality Compatibility Design Selectra Rating
⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ 70%

Powershop App

Japan travel insurance
Image source: Powershop

More so than with other companies, Powershop’s app is a fundamental part of their operations - not just an added extra. So, we were looking forward to taking a look at a different concept for an energy app.

For those not in the know, Powershop is a new company from New Zealand which has set up shop in the UK with a new concept - to commodify the utilities market.

With Powershop, you get to choose when and how you pay for your electricity and gas bills. You buy “power packs” at discounted rates and use them against the cost of your electricity. The more power packs you use, the more you can save.

The app taps into the familiar concept of in-app purchases where you download the app and then have paid add-ons.

What we are hearing from customers is that you must “engage to save” and how you interact with the app will dictate how much money you will save on your energy bills. Buying power packs can give you up to a 33% discount. 47% of their customers love the method and find the app engaging and fun.

Many Powershop customers also claim to have saved a considerable amount on their bills and on their website this seems to be backed up as they claim an average customer will save up to £346 when compared to the big six if using their ‘top shopper’ rate.

This obviously means that the app is fundamental and customers must engage with it on an almost daily basis to get the best deal on their electricity and gas. The app lets you:

  • see how much power you're using and what you need to buy
  • make sure you never miss a special
  • forecast future usage and cost
  • shop for Powerpacks to manage your budget
  • compare and gain insights into your usage

Many customers used to traditional energy companies have taken a while to get used to the new system.

Some customers have claimed that the app is sometimes difficult to understand and that the daily usage report doesn’t average your consumption or estimate your future usage based on your historical usage. As a result, it can be challenging to put your finger on exactly how much you are spending.

Also, many users wanted the display to include the actual power units purchased/used, and how much energy each of these actually counted for both for current and future months.

Overall, however, we like the fact that Powershop is trying a new way of managing our energy and we can’t deny that buying and using the Powerpacks is satisfying. However, we would say that Powershop still have some way to go in ironing out in the kinks in the system to make it really clear to customers how much they are spending, and more importantly how much they are saving!

Ease of Use Functionality Compatibility Design Selectra Rating
⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 60%

Bulb App

Bulb App
Image source: Bulb Energy

The king of cool when it comes to energy we were excited to try out the Bulb Energy app. It is surprisingly disappointing from a design point of view, much like the Ovo app. It is functional, simple, and gels with the overall feel of Bulb as a whole, but it doesn’t have the flair of Npower’s app. It also has some issues with functionality, on both Android and iOS, with customers calling the navigation “frustrating.”

The app does have some unique features such as the ability to refer friends directly on the app to earn £50 credit, and photometer readings, which customers love as it saves them time.

The app is a work in progress and Bulb are working hard on customer feedback. In fact, for their next update, they have asked customers about what functionality they would like to add to the app and how they could improve. Popular choices are fingerprint login, the ability to measure CO2 savings, and smart home control - something that we feel will be coming soon shortly to most of the energy apps on the market.

Overall we’d say that Bulb still has some perfecting to do on the app but have made a solid start by providing a usable app that helps customers submit meter readings and check their balance.

Ease of Use Functionality Compatibility Design Selectra Rating
⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ 50%

Pure Planet App

Pure Planet App
Image source: Pure Planet

Last but not least is Pure Planet’s offering. Again, it’s a nice looking app which has simple menus and a layout that make it easy for customers to use.

Pure Planet Energy is a new energy company in the UK market by the team who founded Virgin Mobile. They claim to be an ethical energy company which uses 100% renewable energy and 100% carbon offset gas. Much like Usio Energy, they are an app-only supplier and have a 0% markup on wholesale energy prices.

By having everything online only, the company saves money on staffing and service, and therefore you save money on your bills. Just remember that 100% of your experience with Pure Planet is going to be by using their app.

The most innovative or exciting aspect of the Pure Planet app is Watt Bot, which is a customer-facing chatbot.

It is powered by AI algorithms meaning that is able to understand a broad range of queries even if they’re written in conversational English. No person is replying to messages. Watt Bot was built to answer common customer queries meaning that customer service agents can be freed up to help customers with more complex issues.

This means that simple tasks such as giving meter readings or paying bills will be done with Wattbott. If you have a more important or complex problem that needs human interaction, then you can type "talk to the team" into Wattbott, and he will put you in touch with a customer service agent.

Reactions to the app have been mixed with the most significant problems emerging from customers not able to get the app to function and thereby not being able to get in touch with customer support at all. We’d recommend that any customers who are struggling to get through send a message on the community pages.

Ease of Use Functionality Compatibility Design Selectra Rating
⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ 60%