23rd June 2020
How to hack your home for cheaper, greener, energy with our open API
Phil Steele, Future Technologies Evangelist
Our Agile Octopus online forum harbors an active community of entech enthusiasts who are constantly pushing the boundaries of energy using our public API and tariffs. We wanted to share some of the ways they're hacking their homes to get the cheapest, greenest energy around, and help you get started with your own smart home!
We’re building the groundwork for an all renewable, all-electric future.
One way to reduce the need for dirty fossil fuels is to shift our collective consumption patterns and better distribute energy usage throughout the day - to times when energy is greenest (and cheapest). We’re doing that with our AgileOctopus Tariff. With dynamic pricing based on half-hourly wholesale energy prices, Agile empowers customers with super low (sometimes free, or negative) prices to change when they use energy to off-peak times when the grid is under less strain – making the energy far less carbon-intensive, and much cheaper. Customers receive massive benefits from changing energy consumption and automating appliances to run during the cheapest and greenest times.
Agile or not, you can get involved – if you’re on a fixed, flat rate tariff using energy off peak is still ‘greener’, because the power coming down the wires will be less carbon intensive. However, if you want to really reap the benefits of changing your energy consumption, you can save hundreds on a smart tariff like AgileOctopus.
This tariff relies on a smart meter to track the variable cost of your energy, but Agile’s savings are truly unlocked with other smart home products and app integrations, so you can make the most of Agile without even having to think about it; when you’re sleeping, or out and about.
You can connect up smart hot water systems, electric heating, electric vehicle chargers and anything else that can be instructed to use energy automatically at times of the day – from smart plugs to smart home helpers like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa. As we’ll see in a moment, it’s super easy to automate your home so you can most of cheap, green energy without ever having to think about it.
Agile is all about the potential for innovation and empowerment that comes with taking your energy into your own hands. That’s why we made Agile’s API public. We let our customers access our pricing data so they can integrate and automate their smart home, their way.
Just over two years ago we held a Hackathon to launch the Agile tariff and invited over 100 engineers from more than 20 companies to see what innovation could come out of a tariff API. Since then, a buzzing community of entech enthusiasts have gathered around our Octopus Agile Forum and we’ve tracked more than 30 published uses. We've seen homebrew Home Energy Management Systems, apps that show agile rates on Apple watches, and a whole host of ingenious setups - using everything from Raspberry Pi's to Tado smart thermostats to automate energy consumption.
These pioneers are living the future of energy, today. Here are just a few ways you can hack our API to make the most of cheaper, greener energy.
Tracking Agile Rates and Consumption Data
Once up and running, the first question customers generally ask us is to do with tracking their consumption data.
In May 2020 we updated the dashboard making the Agile tariff rates easier to view and explore.
The Octopus account dashboard also gives a beautifully designed dynamic graph of daily consumption - it’s quick, easy, and quite addictive to flick back, day by day, through your consumption patterns and watch the graph move up and down.
The Agile pricing as published on the Octopus account dashboard works for most, but our pioneers are constantly using our API to develop new ways to view their daily prices (and other information) that better suit their preferences.
Kim Bauters, for example, has used our API to build his OctopusWatch App, so you can even keep Agile rates on your wrist for easy access!
With that in mind, customers often ask us about downloading their data to create their own graphs, to compare against flat rate tariffs or simply check our homework to ensure their bill is correct. Again, our en-tech pioneers have used our API to come up with a number of ingenious solutions!
- Guy Lipman’s Google Sheet: access all your consumption data into a Google sheet. No coding needed.
- Steve Palmer’s Excel Tool: access all your consumption data into an Excel sheet. No coding needed.
- Mick Wall’s Energy Stats Cost Calculator: More advanced calculator which works by plugging in your high consumption energy devices/appliances.
- Mick Wall’s Energy Stats UK Website: online tool to analyse your data.
- Guy Lipman’s Data Analysis Tool: a useful tool for getting your tariff rates
If you’re not quite ready to make the leap to Agile but you have a smart meter that we’re capturing half-hour data for, there’s a few online tools to help you compare what your bills would look like on our different tariffs, based on your energy usage - some are able to look at trends over the past 12 months.
- Tariff Comparison Tool: useful comparison of costs of each tariff
- SmartAtHome Tariff Comparison Tool: useful comparison of costs of each tariff
- SmartAtHome Agile & Go Comparison and Cost Tool: useful comparison of costs of each tariff
- James Singleton’s Tariff Cost Calculator: useful for working out how much you could save with Agile
Can you automate it? - Yes you can!
After asking how to track their consumption, the second question people ask us is usually to do with managing appliances so that they use energy at the best times of day.
You can use the Agile API to manage and automate devices around the home such as heating, hot water, home battery storage and electric vehicle charging. This way, you’ll be able to make the most of super cheap, super green off-peak energy.
Smart Energy Storage
Powervault was one of the first pieces of tech to use our API. Their home energy storage system uses it to fill up when the energy in the grid is cheapest and greenest, and to share energy with your home when the grid’s energy is most demand (and therefore dirtier and more expensive). We paired up with Powervault as part of a BEIS funded research project that focussed on using the battery’s brain to heat water more efficiently. The trial is over, but Powervault systems now have this capability built in.
Smart Electric Heating
Electric heating is another area where smart energy cost-tracking can have huge benefits, especially when used with smart ground and air source heat pumps, storage heaters or electric heaters. Karolis from Homely contacted us sometime ago to let us know about their smart thermostat, which is geared towards ground and air-source heating solutions. Instead of setting a target temperature, you set a comfort band and the thermostat will work with our API to warm your home to the upper threshold when prices are low and let the home cool to the lower threshold when prices are high. Karolis has also built an app that by way of the thermostat, learns the ‘heat up’ and ‘cool down’ cycle of the home, continually updating its predictions to heat his home for the lowest possible cost automatically.
If you much prefer a specific target temperature rather than a comfort range, then another solution is heat storage. Systems like Sunamp, Boxergy, and Tepeo can be heated using the cheapest half-hours of the day, store that heat, and then release it throughout the day according to the thermostat schedule.
Smart EV Charging
Ohme’s electric vehicle charging cable was probably the first EV charger to use the Agile API. It works with our Agile Tariff and works with the Go and Go Faster tariffs too, using the API to pump your EV with electrons when it is cheapest and greenest to do so.
Whilst on the subject of EV charging, a popular open source energy monitoring and control system, OpenEnergyMonitor have included support for Agile too for access to the tariff and consumption data within their system and also for their OpenEVSE charger too.
One of our own smart energy pioneers, GreeningMe, has used a Raspberry Pi and an add-on circuit board with our API to switch his electric car charger on/off and set the best time for his hot water immersion heater to run. He also has solar generation and so he can direct his solar power to either his smart car charger or hot water.
Mick Wall, the brains behind EnergyStats UK has recently purchased an EV been using the Agile API to automate his charging, and his increasingly smart home! You can read more about his journey here.
These are just a few of the incredibly smart (pardon the pun) ways people are making the most of smart meters, smart appliances, and clever API’s.
I’ll do it myself (tech level 🌶🌶🌶)
Having covered some different API-based tracking tools and product integrations, the final step is to even get involved and have a go yourself!
For those getting started with the API, Guy Lipman has put together a handy guide that goes into a bit more detail than our own developer page - this is a great place to start and I know a lot of customers who have successfully used this as a jump-off point.
Our own Agile forum, where our smart home pioneers gather to share tips and tricks is also an especially rich rich source of material
The popular Home Assistant System is another especially useful reference point, chock full of smart home and IOT related integration - it’s great to see how quickly the Agile API and Agile Octopus Tariff have made their way into the smart home ecosystem.
In the home-brew category, users like GreeningMe have created their own Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS), using the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi to manage a large part of their energy consumption.
Together with Western Power Distribution, Passiv Systems have also created something similar to GreeningMe’s HEMS, which is currently being trialled and evaluated as another BEIS funded research project called MADE.
Talking of Raspberry Pi devices, probably one of our personal favourites is the InkyPHAT eInk display. Can you call tariff displays cute? We think so! As per usual, you can do this yourself - the code is open source and the devices are available to order on Pimoroni (and elsewhere).
If you’re up for it, Ryan Walmsley has hacked his EV charger (but please heed his warnings before messing with any electronics).
Finally, If you’re interested in finding out more about APIs more generally, the new Re.alto service is in beta and aims to become a kind of API marketplace. Their site is going to be worth watching - it’ll be exciting to see what other kinds of API are being published!
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