Canadian startup puts a collection agency spin on stopping electricity theft


By Liz Enbysk

SGN Managing Editor


The idea that an estimated $202.2 billion in electricity generated around the world each year is lost to energy theft or equipment failure may be hard to fathom. But a Vancouver, B.C. startup that develops technologies to reduce grid power losses puts it into more manageable scenarios.


According to Awesense:

·         Energy diversion costs U.S. utilities an estimated $6 billion annually - making energy the third most stolen commodity right behind credit card information and cars

·         Power loss and equipment failure are so out of control in India that government statistics suggest it cuts the country's economic growth 1.2% annually

·         The amount of electricity lost in Rio de Janeiro each year could provide power to 6.2 million homes by some estimates, says an ELO Sistemas Electronicos VP


I talked with Awesense founder and CEO Mischa Steiner-Jovic, who uses words like "astronomical" and "almost unbelievable" when he describes the amount of money utilities - and their customers - lose each year.


"Utilities generate billions of dollars of power every year that they don't get compensated for and never gets to their customers," he says. And those power losses are passed along, adding $50 to $200 to customer electricity bills each year.


So as Steiner-Jovic puts it, "it's not a victimless crime," especially if you factor in the fires, power outages and injuries that can result.


But catching culprits - who may be individuals trying to avoid high electric bills or sophisticated marijuana grow operations - can be challenging.


And all of that is what intrigued the engineer in Steiner-Jovic, who founded Awesense Wireless in 2009 to solve the power loss problem. Awesense prototyped its SenseNET solution with Fortis BC in 2010 and then started selling it to other utilities. We told you last month in a story on energy theft going from bad to worse about the company's partnership with ELO Sistemas in Latin America.


SenseNET combines hardware, data analytics, networking and advanced power monitoring to identify power losses from both equipment failures and diversion caused by meter tampering or line tapping. Basically sensors are clamped onto distribution lines using a hot stick or truck and each sensor can monitor power consumption at up to 100 locations at the same time. So a utility might deploy several hundred sensors, which can then be moved around to cover a broad area. Communication is via a self-creating wireless mesh network.


Steiner-Jovic will tell you that SenseNET is quick and easy to deploy, with rapid ROI. He points to one customer that achieved payback in a week.


And now it gets even more interesting.


Awesense recently announced a no-cost SenseNET-as-a-service offering that has the company collaborating with utilities to design, implement and manage loss reduction initiatives. Awesense is paid through a percentage of recovered revenue, sort of a collection agency model for utilities that don't have the budget or wherewithal to tackle the problem otherwise.


Or as Awesense sees it, the SenseNET service becomes a "new" revenue source for utilities. One U.S. utility is already deploying it and Steiner-Jovic says trials are set to begin this quarter in Europe and Asia.


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