April's Open Road Map Update — Bulb Community

April's Open Road Map Update

Every month we update our Open Road Map. This is a rough timeline of what we’re working on at Bulb. .

If you’ve got a great idea for a new feature or think there’s something we could do to improve things for our members, post it on Community and we’ll add it to the Open Road Map.

Each month we update Community about things we completed during the previous month, what we’re working currently and what our members want to see us doing in the future.

Here’s April’s update:

Your ideas

@corvus suggested that we should change naming conventions on monthly statements.

We send statements by email and they can be downloaded from your Bulb account. Currently when you download a statement onto your computer and save it as a file it’s automatically named something along the lines of Bill8963537.pdf.

It was suggested that we change the names of your bills to something a little more meaningful. So when you download or save your statements, you know they’re from Bulb and are in date order.

With your help, we have decided to go with this naming convention:

Bill_YYMMDD_UNIQUE.pdf

We’ve added this to our internal road map and will be released ni the next update to our billing system.

Thanks @corvus, @somerpark and @phproxy for your suggestions.

Things we’ve done

Usage graphs for smart meter data

We started installing SMETS2 smart meters for Bulb members in February 2019 and we’ll continue to roll them out into 2020.

One advantage of having a smart meter is being able to see exactly how much energy you are using and when. Access to real-time data about your energy habits helps you find ways to cut your bills. And it helps us understand how we can balance the demand on the grid to help lower carbon emissions.

When you have a smart meter installed, the engineer will also set up an In-Home Display. This is a small device that connects to your meter wirelessly. It shows how much energy you’re using (kWh) and how much that costs in pounds and pence.

We think the In-Home Display is a great way to help you save. But lots of our members have said they’d like to view their smart data in their Bulb account. Members with a second generation smart meter are now able to view their monthly energy usage graph in their Bulb account without needing to brush cobwebs off their meters and send us readings.

Right now, we’re focusing on rolling out smart meters to every member that wants one. But we’ll be designing and building new ways to display your smart data to make it more useful. Check out our plans to improve the usage graphs in a previous post.

If you’d like a smart meter installed, you can join the smart meter waiting list to be the first to know when we’re installing in your area.

New statements

We're rebuilding the way we generate our emails to include more useful information.

As we're building a new system from scratch, we're testing it with a limited number of members first. To start, we’ve made some changes to your monthly statements. The new statements have all the same things the old one had, including:
  • Whether the statement was based on estimated or actual meter readings.
  • Asking for your meter readings if you haven't sent one in three months or more.
  • Requesting that you set up a payment method if you don’t currently have one.
Once we're happy that’s working well, we'll roll it out to more members. And we’ll include more meaningful things in the statement email, like:
  • A sentence explaining whether your balance is good for the time of year.
  • If it isn't, we'll recommend you increase or decrease your payments.
  • We'll include your supply address in the email.
  • We'll tell you if there's a Direct Debit that's been taken from your bank account but isn't showing in your Bulb account yet.
  • If your monthly cost is unusually high, we'll explain why.
  • If we're sending you a statement for an unusual billing period, we'll explain why.
And then we'll move on to other communications, like your monthly meter read reminder, payment update and some of the emails you get during your switch to Bulb.

Electric vehicle calculator

We’ve built a new electric vehicle (EV) Calculator and we’ll sharing the link more publicly in the upcoming weeks. We’re giving Community a sneak peak at the calculator first.

If you're a Bulb member with a compatible SMETS1 smart meter , you can join our Smart Tariff (beta). We’re working on making it compatible with SMETS2 smart meters too. You'll get cheaper, off-peak electricity from 11pm to 7am, so you can charge your electric vehicle for less.

The EV calculator will help you compare our standard tariff to our smart tariff and see how much you could save if you switched.

Things we’re doing

Changing the way we review your payments

Our members have told us that the maths behind what we ask you to pay each month isn’t clear enough, so we’re re-evaluating. Our goal is to make sure that throughout the year your account balance is in credit, you have an active payment method and that you’re paying enough to cover your energy consumption. No one wants to get ‘bill shock’ or a request for a payment they weren’t expecting, so we want to help you keep on top of your account.

We’re looking at different ways to do this, and the best way to help you understand what you’re paying. We expect to roll this out over the next quarter. But first we’ll be talking with our members and running trials and experiments.

It’s important your account is in credit because we buy energy in advance. This helps us to make your bills cheaper. If your monthly payments are not enough to ensure your minimum balance is £0 in April, we will suggest a payment increase. April is when your balance will be at its lowest throughout the year. It's the month of the year when, for most people, the temperature has warmed up enough that monthly energy usage drops below monthly payment amount.


Back in winter 2018, we found that a number of members were unclear about how we calculated a new suggested payment amount. From the way we explained our calculations, it looked like we were asking members who joined us in winter, to keep two months credit in their account when our terms and conditions said you only needed one.

With lots of great feedback, and some more complicated maths, we think we’ve found a way to make sure that whatever time of year you join us, your minimum balance is £0 around April after year. And, as requested by Community, we’ll rewrite our terms and conditions to reflect this. This will prevent our members from getting a payment shock and will keep you informed.

Watch this space as there’ll be more to come on this.

Energy Company Obligations

The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) is a government energy efficiency scheme to help reduce household fuel poverty and carbon emissions across the UK.

Medium and large energy suppliers must fund energy saving measures that help reduce energy bills.

Energy saving measures covered under ECO include:
  • Gas boiler replacement
  • Cavity wall insulation
  • Loft insulation
  • Solid wall insulation
Suppliers either set up their own services, or work with partners to deliver energy saving measures in homes. We’re in the process of choosing a partner to work with.

The important thing to know is that you can apply for ECO grants whether your supplier is ECO compliant or not. So Bulb members can access grants now.

To find out if you are eligible, you can call Energy Savings Advice: Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm, Saturday 10am to 2pm. They can help you understand whether you qualify for ECO funding. If you do, they'll explain what to do next.

You can also use online tools such as My Eco Home. This is a website run by a company called Agility Eco that receives funding from multiple energy suppliers for ECO grants.

Comments

  • Electric vehicle calculator

    We’ve built a new electric vehicle (EV) Calculator and we’ll sharing the link more publicly in the upcoming weeks. We’re giving Community a sneak peak at the calculator first.

    If you're a Bulb member with a compatible SMETS1 smart meter , you can join our Smart Tariff (beta). We’re working on making it compatible with SMETS2 smart meters too. You'll get cheaper, off-peak electricity from 11pm to 7am, so you can charge your electric vehicle for less.

    The EV calculator will help you compare our standard tariff to our smart tariff and see how much you could save if you switched.

    This calculator doesn't seem to include any consideration for how much more expensive the peak time usage on the smart tariff is compared to the standard tariff, only the difference between the night rate and the standard tariff.

    For someone who charges a very small electric car a few times a month, it still calculates a saving over the standard tariff, which would not be accurate in the real world.
  • mowcius said:

    Electric vehicle calculator

    We’ve built a new electric vehicle (EV) Calculator and we’ll sharing the link more publicly in the upcoming weeks. We’re giving Community a sneak peak at the calculator first.

    If you're a Bulb member with a compatible SMETS1 smart meter , you can join our Smart Tariff (beta). We’re working on making it compatible with SMETS2 smart meters too. You'll get cheaper, off-peak electricity from 11pm to 7am, so you can charge your electric vehicle for less.

    The EV calculator will help you compare our standard tariff to our smart tariff and see how much you could save if you switched.

    This calculator doesn't seem to include any consideration for how much more expensive the peak time usage on the smart tariff is compared to the standard tariff, only the difference between the night rate and the standard tariff.

    For someone who charges a very small electric car a few times a month, it still calculates a saving over the standard tariff, which would not be accurate in the real world.
    Similarly it does not account for if you current tariff is the economy 7 variant. The overnight cost is the same so no cheaper to charge your car than existing tariff.

    However the overnight rate is much longer than 7 hours, the daytime rate is cheaper than the eco7 rate so you might benefit if you are also a high daytime user but I expect you are more likely to be hit by the expensive evening peak.

    I would expect an ev specific tariff (which I misunderstood this calculator to be until it progressed) to perhaps have a 4 rate split, were there is an extra low rate which is slightly cheaper than the existing night rate for maybe four hours. Then again why would it need to be a specific ev tariff?
  • We'll include your supply address in the email.

    Please don't. It's bad enough you include my address in the PDF you email to me, I certainly don't want it in the plain text of the email itself. I'd rather you didn't email me anything at all that contains personal details, and instead make it only available via the portal after authentication.
  • Hooloovoo said:

    We'll include your supply address in the email.

    Please don't. It's bad enough you include my address in the PDF you email to me, I certainly don't want it in the plain text of the email itself. I'd rather you didn't email me anything at all that contains personal details, and instead make it only available via the portal after authentication.
    Second this.

    I'm not too bothered about the address in the pdf, but in reality, I'd much prefer to keep my personal details behind an authentication system.
  • I do think that far too often people consider email to be a secure method of communication, when it's really not so.

    Unless Bulb removes the option to use a magic link via email to sign-in then this conversation isn't really relevant though - if someone intercepts your emails, they can easily sign into your whole account and get a lot more than your address.
  • mowcius said:

    Unless Bulb removes the option to use a magic link via email to sign-in then this conversation isn't really relevant though - if someone intercepts your emails, they can easily sign into your whole account and get a lot more than your address.

    Absolutely. Can we please also get rid of the "email a link to sign in" option? Who in their right mind thought that was good idea for secure authentication?
  • Hooloovoo said:

    Absolutely. Can we please also get rid of the "email a link to sign in" option? Who in their right mind thought that was good idea for secure authentication?

    But it's so convenient! :grin:
  • mowcius said:

    Hooloovoo said:

    Absolutely. Can we please also get rid of the "email a link to sign in" option? Who in their right mind thought that was good idea for secure authentication?

    But it's so convenient! :grin:
    Agreed. Hopefully my bank will start doing it soon! :p
  • Thanks for the feedback about the changes to our emails. I've passed it on to our communications team.

    The reason that we've decided to add the supply address to the email is because we've had lots of feedback asking for it.

    Lots of members either have more than one property supplied by Bulb or they manage an account on behalf of a friend or relative.

    Currently, when they receive an email asking for meter readings or reminding them of an upcoming payment, there is no way to tell which property we're talking about. This can be especially confusing if a member is managing more than two properties.

    By adding the supply address, we'll make things simpler for our members and reduce the number of members calling or emailing in to clarify which account we're talking about.

    We take data security seriously. Plain text and attachments carry the same data loss risk. We are required by Ofgem to have the supply address on statements. And our members agree to receive these statements by email when they sign up.

    Bulb's magic link mechanism is as secure as a member's private email account (which they should keep very secure). Our magic link URLs are based on unique tokens which expire after 30 days. The magic link tokens are validated against Bulb's infrastructure which we actively monitor for abnormal behaviour 24/7.

    To make sure your email are secure, you can:

    1. Never give out your password to others and never save it in a file on the your computer
    2. Ensure you have multi-factor authentication enabled
    3. Ensure your devices have antivirus
    4. Generate complex passwords using a password manager such as chrome password manager, lastpass or 1password

    Thanks for your feedback on the EV calculator, @mowcius and @Phillip_PAL. We know it’s not perfect which is why we haven’t shared it more widely yet. We knew you’d have great feedback! Bulb Labs is an experimental team inside Bulb. Your feedback is really helpful for them as they develop this and turn it into something useful for all our members (and non-members), which ever tariff they’re on.
  • edited May 8

    Bulb's magic link mechanism is as secure as a member's private email account (which they should keep very secure).

    The issue with this way of thinking is that people can often have no control over how secure the network they're connecting to is and unencrypted email is vulnerable. Yes, in an idea world everyone would always use a VPN when connected to a network they don't trust, but even VPNs can be compromised, and "trusted" networks are often not as secure as you'd like.
    Statements may be required to have addresses in them, but they don't have to be accessible without authentication. As a statement from an energy company is typically one of the accepted forms of ID for many application processes, sending them in this way does increase the risk of identify theft. Now I understand that it's convenient to send them as an attachment and that almost every other energy company does it this way, but it doesn't mean Bulb has to.
    Our magic link URLs are based on unique tokens which expire after 30 days. The magic link tokens are validated against Bulb's infrastructure which we actively monitor for abnormal behaviour 24/7.
    30 days seems excessive. Is there a reason why this is set so long? If someone's wanting to use a magic link to sign-in, any more than about 30 minutes and absolutely everyone's going to have got fed up. By they think of it another day, they'll likely end up requesting another link or a password reset.
  • edited May 8

    We take data security seriously. Plain text and attachments carry the same data loss risk. We are required by Ofgem to have the supply address on statements. And our members agree to receive these statements by email when they sign up.

    Bulb's magic link mechanism is as secure as a member's private email account (which they should keep very secure). Our magic link URLs are based on unique tokens which expire after 30 days. The magic link tokens are validated against Bulb's infrastructure which we actively monitor for abnormal behaviour 24/7.

    The issue isn't regarding the security of my email account. As @mowcius has said the issue is the network connection(s) in between. Even if I trust the network to which I'm connected, and even if I use a VPN, I have no control over and do not trust any of the mail servers in between. Even with no breach of my email account, it's possible for someone to intercept and read email between Bulb and me. When someone does that and reads a magic link from Bulb, they take full control of my Bulb account even with no breach at either end. That's not acceptable.

    The use of SSL/TLS between mail servers is increasing, but you still can't rely on it. Email should always be considered to be untrusted unless known to be end-to-end encrypted. I can give you my public key if you like? :)

    This should work like a bank. Send me an email to tell me there is activity on my Bulb account and I need to log in to check it. That's all the message should contain. That way, the email itself doesn't need to be clear on which property to which it applies, because that can be made clear when customers log in to download their statement(s).

    I've actually been bothered by this for a while but I've ignored it because, like everyone, I've prioritised cheaper energy over my own privacy. If the response from Bulb on this issue is "we think it's fine and we're not changing it" then I think I'll have to reconsider being a customer because my data is not being handled securely enough. You wouldn't send me a statement on a postcard. Don't do the electronic equivalent.
  • @Hooloovoo I think bulb is my only thing that sends me my statements attached to an email, my bank, water company etc all send me an email to tell me my statement is ready.
  • We try to make things as simple for our members as possible. Having a statement attached to an email is a simplified billing experience. It empowers those with limited IT skills and helps those with accessibility issues. But you do raise important data security issues. We can explore ways to ensure a balance between both security and accessibility.
  • simplified billing experience

    mowcius said:

    But it's so convenient! :grin:

  • edited May 10
    Those with limited IT stills still need to be able to log into their Bulb account for other reasons so the simplicity argument kind of falls down there. Accessibility wise similarly.
  • Would it be possible to add the option of 2 factor logins to the Bulb account, including when using the email link. I'd prefer the option to use Authy/Google Authenticator rather than SMS based 2 factor.

    Regarding the options of including various things in the emails, these could be account based settings so that people who worry about their account security more can say turn off the address in the email, or PDF attached to the emails. There could be an account name included which could be the address for some people, and others could be "home" or "parents".
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