At Rocketmakers we love nothing more than producing high-quality software which helps make the world a better place. This is exactly what we have been doing with Sero.
Sero produces home energy systems which help consumers simultaneously lower their carbon footprint while lowering their energy bills with intuitive, user-friendly technology.
In other words, with a Sero system installed, homeowners can save money and save the planet at the same time.
Sero installs a suite of renewable energy technologies such as ground source heat pumps, and state-of-the-art solar panels, which are connected to a battery storage system integrated inside the home. Instead of selling off excess solar energy during the day when prices are low (a common practice for most solar power panel owners) the high capacity batteries keep the green electricity for later use within the home.
When solar energy is not enough to meet a home’s electricity needs, the Sero system tops the batteries automatically when prices and carbon impact are at their lowest, often during the middle of the night . The system also calculates how much energy a home needs to ensure it doesn’t buy too much.
The result is home energy usage which takes 100% advantage of all the solar electricity a home can collect, while providing access to the cheapest possible energy when more is needed.
It is an amazing system, but to be a genuine gamechanger this technology needs an easy, intuitive way for customers to input information and make adjustments. This is where Rocketmakers comes in.
“I approached Rocketmakers with an ambitious list of ‘must haves’ for this project,” explained Sero’s Head of Platform Matt Kane.
“We wanted an app which would allow homeowners to control their energy use and access billing and payment information. But crucially, we needed a very robust onboarding process which got maximum information from customers but was still easy-to-use and straightforward.
The customer interface is accessible via a web portal, but customers are encouraged to primarily use the Sero smartphone app. Rocketmakers designed the app using React and Cordova, which allows one set of code to be used on both Android and iOS phones.
Once logged on, new Sero customers are given a series of questions which helps the system determine their typical energy use. These include asking how many pets they have, how warm they like to keep the house, and how often they go out at the weekends. The system then automatically calculates how much additional energy will be needed, and the most efficient time to buy it.
Whenever something is planned which will result in extra energy use, like a dinner party or weekend guests, homeowners can alert the system a few days in advance via the app so that additional energy can be purchased at an optimal price.
The app Rocketmakers produced is designed to be user-friendly, but its server-side architecture is just as impressive as its intuitive user interface.
While the current app is technically a prototype, it has been designed from the start to be a scalable business tool and not just a proof of concept. This was possible thanks to a library of microservices tools which Rocketmakers has been developing for the last several years called Orbit.
Orbit consists of a series of “capsules,” which are pre-written packets of code which each cover a commonly used server-side function like authorisation, notifications, or auditing. Each capsule has been developed over several years and is extremely robust and well tested.
The capsules are also written to work together perfectly, and can be added to any new project on the first day of coding.
This means that instead of having to build a backend for the Sero app from scratch, Rocketmakers was able to plug in the Orbit capsules that the project needed, knowing the app would instantly have a robust, well-tested server-side foundation. This allowed Rocketmakers to concentrate immediately on the Sero app’s unique features, knowing that the server-side architecture was already in place and ready to go.
A great example of Orbit in use was the app’s help desk function, which allows customers to speak to a Sero customer service agency directly within the app.
This feature was built using a secure system which automatically verifies the identity of the caller and pulls up the customer’s file for agents as the call is put through. This means no password or ID verification is needed at the start of a call - the customer service agents can begin helping immediately.
The helpdesk feature was also built to route customers to the best operator to deal with their particular issue through a filtering process.
Designing this helpdesk feature presented some interesting technical challenges for the Rocketmakers team, but thanks to Orbit they were able to concentrate on the most innovative work rather than having to build a back-end from scratch. And, unlike a typical prototype feature, the helpdesk system is totally scalable and will not need rebuilding when Sero gets a big surge in customers in future.
I was really impressed with Rocketmakers from the start. They made it clear that they were not only interested in forging a long-term partnership, but they were also enthusiastic about our vision for making low-cost, zero carbon home energy systems a reality.
Those customers are certainly coming. Since mid-2020 Sero systems have been installed in a handful of test homes in Wales, but in November 2020 the Welsh Government provided a Sero-led consortium with a £7 million funding to begin retrofitting 1,300 homes in partnership with 26 registered social landlords across Wales. Ultimately, Sero has ambitions to help pave the way for all of the UK’s 27 million homes to reduce their carbon footprint as close to zero as possible.
“Our partnership with Rocketmakers has been essential to getting our technology ready for residents to move into their low carbon, smart homes over the last few months, and we are only just beginning,” explained Sero co-founder Andy Sutton. “We wanted an innovative product we could roll out quickly and build a business on, not just a quick proof of concept. Rocketmakers listened, and we are now in an excellent position to install our systems in thousands of new and existing homes as we move into 2021.”
Rocketmakers CEO Richard Godfrey is also delighted to have had the opportunity to work closely with Sero:
“When we assess a potential project we look for opportunities to innovate, build technology which will make the world a better place, and a client that values robust, scalable software architecture. Our work with Sero ticks all three boxes.
“I’m really pleased that our work with Sero will empower homeowners across the UK to reduce their carbon emissions while saving money. As a company we aim to positively impact the lives of millions of people with our technology by 2030, and our work with Sero is a significant contribution to helping us meet that target.”