I’m an energy-conscious consumer. I turn off the lights when leaving rooms, use fans instead of air conditioning and even unplug appliances from outlets when they’re not in use—but I have a hard time quantifying how much these initiatives are saving me on my electricity bill.

My electricity demand is relatively low: I live in a two-bedroom apartment and there are limited changes I can make to conserve electricity and thus generate savings. Building operators, however, have a very different situation.

Commercial buildings can have hundreds (if not thousands) of different loads, from refrigerators, water pumps and HVAC systems to laptops, lights and cellphone chargers. While each load in and of itself may not be able to provide significant savings, taking the aggregate drives significant energy savings, lessens environmental effects and saves money.

But how do you manage all of those loads and easily understand their trends or issues? This is the challenge—or, rather, the opportunity—that the folks behind MaRS client CircuitMeter saw when developing their energy-monitoring products.

CircuitMeter has developed technology that allows a building’s energy to be continuously monitored by capturing data from each individual circuit (all those breakers in the electrical panel) and relaying it to the cloud. From there, the data can be accessed via a secure website through any browser, computer or tablet. Smart analytics are applied to the data so that energy trends can be pulled out and tracked.

Imagine knowing if more or less energy is being consumed by date period, equipment type and tenant, by utility time of use, by floors or sections of a building, or even across multiple buildings.

Building owners may wonder:

  1. What is the payback period for a new piece of technology?
  2. What progress has been made toward their building’s energy goal?
  3. Are they on track to meet the target?
  4. What are the results of a retrofit project?

CircuitMeter’s technology answers all of these questions by providing a continuous energy audit for the entire building portfolio.

I sat down with Dan Seto, president and CEO of CircuitMeter, to learn more about the company.

What inspired you to enter the energy informatics industry?

I had already worked in the wireless business, first moving wireless technology to digital platforms and then creating the first applications for use on it. As the industry matured, I got to thinking about what might be the next big thing that people and industries would become really concerned about. My teenage children were very focused on energy and the environment, and I thought I should apply myself there.

I quickly discovered that while energy meters existed they were all using technology that was decades old, and they all lacked the ability to generate and view detailed data affordably. I thought there was great opportunity for a company that could create and market a meter that used big data and low-cost hardware to achieve a solution that is truly disruptive. My goal was to create technology that was one-tenth the price and with greater capabilities than the existing paradigm. Having accomplished this, I am thrilled by the market’s enthusiasm, which confirms our thoughts.

We’re seeing a big push in the big data space right now. Do you feel that this is a great time for energy IT companies to really flourish? If so, how is CircuitMeter capitalizing on this momentum?

There is a lot of enthusiasm right now among investors for businesses that use big data. The fact that we are alone with a big data solution in the metering space has made it very easy for us to generate interest with both investors and managers of the very largest real-estate portfolios. Just from their daily lives, building owners know instinctively that what we are doing should be possible.

Having been frustrated with the lack of capability of legacy-type metering systems, as well as their cost, building owners have sat on the sidelines waiting patiently for something like CircuitMeter to come along. When we meet with prospective clients there is great enthusiasm for what we show them and an immediate understanding that big data should allow it. This allows us to focus our sales efforts on the very largest prospects in North America and speed our market entry.

You’re currently focused on commercial buildings. Do you see CircuitMeter entering the residential space in the future?

Our technology competes well in multi-residential applications based on capability and our price point. We are currently working with partners to serve that segment and expect success there. On the matter of single-family homes, however, it’s a different story.

The road is littered with companies that have failed in their attempts to provide circuit-level monitoring in single-family homes. To make our idea economically attractive to commercial buildings we needed to get to a price point that was 10% of existing technologies. Because the energy intensity of homes is still lower than that of commercial buildings, the economics of circuit-level monitoring in homes fails even at this price point.

As we and our future competitors make progress on the technology cost, there will be an opportunity to succeed in the residential market, but I think that it is still a ways out. It will take cost reductions of at least another 50% from where we are today to make our kind of technology attractive to a sufficiently large segment of the residential market.

What is the biggest challenge facing companies in the energy infrastructure sector?

Energy managers have dreamt for a long time about having the kind of capability that we have developed available to them. People know instinctively that if they had granular-level data they could start benchmarking facilities across their portfolios and they could use it to identify energy waste and reduce consumption. The trouble is that this kind of technology hasn’t existed until now. There aren’t really any case studies that can give confidence in exactly what kind of savings can be achieved. It makes the payback case soft.

It takes a bold person in a committed company to invest in technology just so that they can explore its potential and discover its true worth. Finding these kinds of people in the right kinds of companies is harder than you might think. Fortunately, we started off on the right foot, finding just that kind of person at one of the world’s largest retailers, and signing up this environmentally ambitious organization as one of our pilot customers. We’ve got some other very large organizations also progressing well toward pilots. They understand our solution—and our pricing model makes the decision much easier!

What advice would you give entrepreneurs with energy informatics innovations?

Don’t be a “me-too” technology or solution. New technologies that are poorly differentiated from others won’t attract investment and won’t succeed. Dream of something that is totally different and that you think might astonish people, and then try to make it possible. To attract investment, your technology needs to disrupt the status quo in some way.
Don Toporowski, vice-president of sales for CircuitMeter, was on BNN’s “The Pitch” in May, and you can watch the clip here.

Photo credit: Tree plug by dulcie CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Jennifer Minelli

Jennifer manages the accelerating ventures program at MaRS, supporting high-growth ventures in the cleantech, health and information & communications technology (ICT) sectors.See more…