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Summary:

Awesense, a startup using wireless mesh tech and software, has launched to sell utilities energy theft-prevention. Didn’t know it was such a problem? A Canadian utility has said it’s losing $100 million a year to theft; in India about 30 percent of power is used illegally.

Power grid Old Delhi

AwesenseUtilities call energy theft — like when an indoor marijuana farm taps directly into a high voltage line for its super bright lights — a “non-technical loss” or a “commercial loss.” It’s a bizarrely mundane term to describe thefts which cost utilities billions of dollars in losses a year around the world. For example, Canadian utility BC Hydro has estimated that it’s losing a shocking $100 million each year from power theft.

That security problem is what a young Canadian startup called Awesense has emerged to tackle. The company, founded back in late 2009, has developed a product that uses power line sensors connected through a wireless mesh network combined with a cloud-based application. Utility workers can use the combo to remotely monitor and learn details about how much power their companies are actually distributing, versus how much power is being measured by their billing systems. In other words, “how much revenue they’re losing,” as Awesense founder and CEO Mischa Steiner-Jovic explains it.

Awesense’s technology is a mobile solution — utility workers clamp on the power line sensors wherever they suspect theft is happening, and if no theft is being detected they can simply move the network to another part of the grid. The sensor nodes create the ad-hoc mesh network amongst themselves (via the 915 band in North America, for all you wireless spectrum geeks out there).

Awesense

The capital expense of the networks are low enough that Awesense has now decided to start selling theft detection as a service. Awesense will install the technology for utilities for no upfront cost, and then take a cut of the revenue saved. Steiner-Jovic says over the past few years they’ve realized that there’s been a lot of interest from utilities for the theft-detection product, but that utility budgets are often times small and rigid.

In addition to growing its theft detection-as-a-service this year, Awesense is hoping to grow its list of international customers, where energy theft is a massive issue. Currently it has customers (it’s not disclosing the names other than Fortis BC) in Canada, the U.S., and Latin America, and it’s looking to Awesenseexpand more into Latin America as well as Asia Pacific and Europe. India has some of the highest theft losses in the world, with close to 30 percent of the power in the country lost to theft (check out some photos of the crazy jerry-rigged power grids of Old Delhi). The former Soviet Union has almost 50 percent. Brazil is at 15 percent.

To date, Awesense has been mostly bootstrapped, and just raised a “seven figure” round from angels last Summer. Steiner-Jovic says the company could be interested in raising a venture round in the future to grow its business. Applying IT tech to the power grid and clean energy is still an area where startups have been able to get funding from some venture capitalists, despite the difficult funding environment for most cleantech.

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  1. Reblogged this on ECOSpectra Spectator and commented:
    Really interesting piece…I especially like the reference/allusion to marijuana farms. Nice touch.

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  2. What happens when the the folk who can’t afford power just steal the sensors? If you are dealing with countries like India, you have to assume “Shrinkage” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrinkage_%28accounting%29). Most companies know this when getting into the market.

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    1. Mischa Steiner-Jovic Tuesday, January 22, 2013

      MT,

      You have a valid point, and yes, it is certainly something that has been considered. Areas that have prolific loss, as you’ve pointed out like India can benefit from a system like this as isn’t a fixed asset, and is intended to be relocatable so a utility or utility service provider can quickly analyze an area, and move it to another area.

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