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Smart device helps owners harness the power of the home

Janice Cheam, President and CEO of Energy Aware, holds a Neurio sensor at her offices in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, December 19, 2013. The Neurio sensor monitors a home's electricity using WIFI and a cloud service to calculate how much energy appliances use.

Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak

The idea was born in 2005, when Janice Cheam, then in her senior year at UBC's Sauder School of Business, was given the task of creating a business plan and prototype for a product.

Around the same time, a friend who recently returned from a conference on climate change spoke of the environmental impact of carbon emissions.

"As a result of that [conversation], I had this almost panicked feeling, where I really wanted to do something," Ms. Cheam said. "I decided to dedicate the business plan in the class to addressing that problem: How can we make energy conservation a real part of the solution to our environmental problems?"

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But the idea was intimidatingly big. To make the issue easier to tackle – and more appealing for consumers of this still-hypothetical product – Ms. Cheam scaled down.

Over the course of eight years – which included the creation of Energy Aware, a company of which Ms. Cheam is president and CEO – what started as a simple home energy display became Neurio. A small device that connects to a home's breaker panel, Neurio monitors electricity use and sends real-time information via wireless Internet and a cloud service to a personal device such as a smartphone or tablet. Neurio's energy-tracking app, Wattson, itemizes one's energy bill by appliance, allowing the user to see exactly how many dollars a month it costs to power, say, the heater or oven.

One of his first discoveries was that even when everything was powered off, his home was still using a lot of energy. With a little investigating, he discovered one culprit was a stereo that continued to sap energy even when turned off.

"It took me two minutes to fix that and that alone was about $10 of savings per bill, which is considerable for a stereo that was just sitting there," he said.

There was also a faulty heater in his bedroom that operated at full power – adding $30 to $50 to each hydro bill – despite only generating a little bit of heat.

"I turned that off and the next day I bought myself a blanket heater," Mr. Kashani said. "That costs me 50 cents per month to run and I'm actually warmer at night."

At the end of the first year, Mr. Kashani saved $350 compared to the previous year. The accomplishment also earned him a $75 rebate from BC Hydro's "Team Power Smart" program.

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Mr. Kashani's experience helps illustrate that saving energy doesn't require major lifestyle changes, a belief that can be a huge barrier to more sustainable living, Ms. Cheam said.

In addition to saving money, the device can "learn" helpful tricks that can potentially make the user's life easier, Ms. Cheam said. Using pattern detecting algorithms, Neurio can, for example, notify a user when a load of laundry is done, or if a user has forgotten to turn off the stove.

In mid-October, the team at Energy Aware launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of the device, setting a goal of raising $95,000 in 30 days. It not only succeeded, meeting its goal in nine days, but went on to raise $267,373 from nearly 2,000 backers worldwide.

"We were high-fiving, obsessively refreshing our Kickstarter page and bouncing off the walls with big smiles on our faces," Ms. Cheam said.

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About the Author
News reporter

Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More

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