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© Copyright 2007 Work-4 Projects Ltd.
Saving Electricity... and Money

By Ann-Margret Hovsepian

You wouldn't expect utility companies to encourage consumers to cut back on their electricity usage, but that's exactly what's happening.
When 32-year-old DANNY TUFF, who comes from a family of six children, was young, his father used to comment about how great it would be if they had a device in the kitchen that showed them how much their energy use cost. In 2003, Danny and his brother MAURICE, an electrical engineer, developed the innovative PowerCost Monitor(tm) and founded Blue Line Innovations. As unobtrusive as a small electric clock, the PowerCost Monitor is a real-time direct feedback display device that tells homeowners, at a glance, how much electricity their home is using in dollars and cents, as well as in kW. The technology consists of a sensor unit affixed to an existing household utility meter with a simple ring clamp, and a display unit, located inside the home, which receives a wireless signal from the transmitter and then displays the consumption information. Studies demonstrate that getting real-time feedback on domestic energy use can yield savings of anywhere between 10 and 20 per cent on utility bills. A few years ago, Ontario's Hydro One wanted to test real-time feedback monitors and sent out a request for proposals. The PowerCost Monitor was still in the research and development stage but the company sent in a proposal, completed the product, and ended up taking on a 1-1/2-year trial project with Hydro One, in which 500 homes received the monitor. Private consultants later found that homeowners using the PowerCost Monitor saved, on average, 6.5 per cent on their electricity bills. Pleased with the results, Hydro One decided to implement the product in 30,000 Ontario homes last summer.
Last November, BC Hydro and Blue Line Innovations launched a pilot project with 325 participants to determine how the Power Cost Monitor can educate residential customers on BC Hydro's three-tiered rate structure, and to provide homeowners with a tool that helps them conserve energy.
On May 16, NSTAR Electric of Massachusetts became the first U.S. company to offer the PowerCost Monitor to its customers. The next day, Blue Line Innovations signed an agreement with Newmarket Hydro. The utility company will provide Power Cost Monitors to its residential customers at cost. Blue Line Innovations is also working in conjunction with CEA Technologies Inc., Natural Resources Canada, Newfoundland Power, and BC Hydro on a major energy management demonstration project. Why are so many utilities helping customers cut back on energy use? "You can't open a newspaper these days without an article about conservation or climate change appearing somewhere on the first three pages," says JAY MCMILLIAN, VP of Sales and Marketing at Blue Line Innovations. He explains that Canadians recognize the need to become more aware of how we use consumables and governments are legislating requirements for companies and utilities to take conservation efforts. "Utilities are also trying to be better corporate citizens," McMillan adds. "They need to manage the power grids better because we can't just keep adding onto infrastructure. We need to better manage our resources." He uses an analogy the Tuff family would relate to: "If you have six kids, you need a vehicle that can carry six kids and two adults. The majority of time, you would probably travel with only a few people, but you still need the capability to carry eight." He explains that it's the same with a utility. It has to be able to manage the peak demand, even if it's not used 365 days a year. It's less expensive for utilities to lower the peak usage than to keep building to meet the demand, so they actually profit when they help customers lower their energy use. McMillan refers to it as "avoided cost of generation."
A recent press release from Blue Line Innovations states: "If every home in Canada had a PowerCost Monitor for one year, the savings in green house gas emissions would equal the shutting down of one coal-fired plant or removing the emissions of almost 1.2 million vehicles." For home builders trying to build Energy Star certified homes, installing a PowerCost Monitor instantly qualifies them for 800 kWh worth of credit toward an Energy Star rating... for only $150. "There's a cost benefit for builder," McMillan points out. Earlier this year, the PowerCost Monitor was awarded "Outstanding Energy Efficient Technology Deployment of the Year" by the U.S.-based Association for Energy Service Professionals (AESP). It can be purchased on-line at www.save-electricity.ca.

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