Foresight: Lending You Insight

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Richard Asher Writer at Pioneers.io

With smart meters appearing in more and more homes, we should all be able to not only make smarter energy decisions, but take them more easily. Pioneers Challenge finalist Foresight has created the technology to help us do exactly that!

Imagine leaving for work in the morning and instructing an app to start your washing machine at the most cost-effective time before your expected arrival back home. Imagine, too, that this app was actually supplied by your utility - in exchange for some kind of tariff incentive. Now, as long it doesn’t seem too Orwellian for your utility to be switching on your laundry, you’re saving money by doing pretty much nothing!

Along with the pleasures of clean socks, that’s rather a nice thought. One that’s made possible not just by the rise of smart meters - coming to your home sooner or later, wherever you may be in the world - but by the likes of data-crunchers like Foresight.

The impressive startup’s role is essentially to make sense of the reams of big data coming from powerful new meters and a variety of different energy sources. They help your utility make good enough predictions to offer those creative new laundry incentives - among other possibilities of course! Foresight’s name, a contraction of ‘forecasting insights’, is a fair summing-up of what they do: bringing predictive tools out of the Stone Age.

“The utility world is changing massively, not just with regards to data but also with decentralization, for example with solar PV and storage systems,” says Head of Business Development Florian Hirschbichler. “The winner in this new world will be the one who can interpret the data the best.”

“We try to translate big data into actionable insights. Firstly to increase efficiency in general, and secondly to allow providers to offer new services and products. Nobody has done it this way before - bringing top notch machine learning and big data tech into every field of the energy world.”

Big data. Actionable Insights. You’ve heard that a few times before, right? Foresight is certainly not the only company out there waving that carrot. That’s exactly why it’s good to specialise - just like they’ve done.

The energy world is getting increasingly complex, with new possibilities in energy production, storage and usage turning up all the time. No longer is it just about reading your meter. What about solar possibilities for your home? Does your electric car really need a full charge every night? Could your living room temperature be regulated without heating in peak hours? This is a web of specialised data that needs better, integrated interpretation, says Hirschbichler. And that’s the Foresight niche.

“Algorithms do an amazing job, but it’s a general problem with big data at the moment that you get amazing results, but then you have to try and understand where the results are coming from. With big data it’s not so easy to directly understand the relationship between inputs and outputs. So we combine expert knowledge with the algorithm output.”

Rest assured, you and I are not going to have to fry your brain with any actionable big data insights in order to use your energy more efficiently in the future. While Foresight’s technology may very well power everyday enhancements like that washing machine app, businesses are their direct customers. These already include big utilities like Wien Energie in Austria and Enerjisa in Turkey.

Foresight’s Engage product is all about suggesting those energy products and services such utilities might think about adding to our offering - which in many cases is still limited to a fat bill in the post.

“As a customer now with a smart meter, you can know exactly when you are consuming and how much. But utilities need to provide a clear benefit in order to convince people to share that data. We’re helping the utilities come up with some real new value they can offer to customers. They won’t make money forever just by selling electricity.”

Automation is a critical factor in that real value offering. Few of us are going to set the alarm early to save a few pennies by switching on the laundry at three in the morning. And customers don’t have the time to keep on actively reporting the latest from their smart meters. If the money-saving process runs itself, though...where do I sign?

Foresight makes automating innovative products a possibility. Where utilities have traditionally worked with aggregated, worst-case-scenario averages based on one reading a year, quality data insights mean they can offer such automated services with confidence that they won’t get the maths horribly wrong.

While working with utilities is the major part of Foresight’s business, and the one that could have the clearest impact on us consumers, they’re also helping smaller businesses and innovators in the energy industry, such as PV solution and virtual powerplant companies, optimise their solutions.

Their Predict tool, a plug-and-play forecasting and insights solution, is aimed at businesses such as smaller workshops. Using historical data, it helps them in a practical way to be more efficient and save costs.

And the setup at Foresight? One part of the firm (the software geeks included) sits in Tel Aviv, while the other half the company is in Vienna. With customers in both Austria and Israel having already clambered on board, the international approach is certainly paying dividends.

How much further can they go? Well, that would be the ultimate prediction, wouldn’t it?

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