An Energy Metering System
Click. That’s the sound of Savraj Singh Dhanjal, founder of Wattvision, turning off a light switch in Pennington, NJ. A few seconds later, the iPhone screen we’re watching registers the change. It shows that the house we’re in is now using 70 less watts of energy, and we’ve just saved two cents per hour.
And really, that is all it takes. Research shows that when people can see exactly how much electricity they are using, they almost always use less.
“The only way to improve something is to measure it,” explains Dhanjal.
Energy metering systems like this are still relatively novel, but Dhanjal envisions a future in which every single building in the world will have one. And he hopes Wattvision will lead the way.
Dhanjal, age 30, graduated from Princeton University in 2003 with a degree in computer science. He worked for Microsoft for a few years, but then decided to work for himself. His idea to build energy monitors came in 2008 after he asked his father a few questions about their family’s home energy use. Dhanjal’s father, an aerospace engineer for Lockheed Martin, didn’t know the answers.
Dhanjal recalls his dad saying “Well, the energy bill varies between $300 and $600.” This inspired Dhanjal to search the Internet for home energy monitors. He discovered that nothing on the market provided exactly what he wanted: real-time energy data on a smart phone or computer, in a package that could be set up easily.
“There were a couple products out there that kind of did what I wanted, but they were really hard to install,” Dhanjal says. “You had to have an electrician. If you tried to install it yourself, you were risking death.”
Not satisfied with that option, Dhanjal decided to build his own energy metering system from scratch. The project would require both hardware design and software design. Fortunately, these skills were already in the family. Dhanjal programmed the software interface, while his father helped build Wattvision’s patented energy sensor. The Wattvision prototype was completed in the family’s Central Jersey basement.
The first time Dhanjal turned on the system, he was afraid something must be wrong. His parent’s home was registering an energy use of 1,500 watts — a high number — but it was a quiet day in the house. Eventually, he figured out the system was working fine. The problem was, just from being plugged in, “vampire electronics” were sucking up energy. “We went around the house unplugging things,” Dhanjal says. “We were able to cut our energy use in half.”
Now, nearly three years later, the Wattvision sensor is ready for primetime. It’s available for purchase from wattvision.com. Although, not the only home energy meter on the market,
Dhanjal believes it is the easiest to install and offers the best results.
Wattvision is still headquartered in Dhanjal’s parent’s basement, and he’s still the only full-time employee. But he already has a few angel investors lined up in California, and has been talking to venture capitalists. In hopes of taking the company to the next level, he is considering moving Wattvision to Silicon Valley.
At Microsoft, Dhanjal’s job was to make sure that users of Word 2007 had the best experience possible. Now, he is concentrating on the same goal for Wattvision.
When Dhanjal shows me how to install the Wattvision sensor over a home’s standard electricity meter, it does, in fact, look incredibly easy to do. Dhanjal, of course, has had plenty of chances to practice. For a second opinion, I consult Ted Borer, energy plant manager at Princeton University. Borer uses Wattvision in his own home.
Was it easy to install?
“I could have had my ten year old set it up,” Borer reports.