Sauder BCom grad, Janice Cheam has found a practical solution to household energy conservation. The president and CEO of Vancouver-based Energy Aware Technology has developed a tool that tells how much electricity you’re using, and how much it costs you.
Cheam started her UBC studies in arts but switched to Sauder in her second year. It was in the New Venture Design class at Sauder that she and her five teammates came up with the idea for a real-time energy console - the product her company would eventually sell - and developed a business plan that they submitted to an industry competition.
“I was really into school. I worked hard to make goals for myself and achieve them,” says Cheam. Shortly afterward, Cheam was interviewed for a job. When she described the innovative energy-display project she worked on as an undergraduate, the interviewer discouraged her from the position for which she’d applied and urged her to pursue her own dream as an entrepreneur.
“The encouragement was just what I needed to start my own company,” recalls Cheam.
By 2009, Energy Aware had been described as “the most promising start-up company of the year” by the BC Technology Industry Association. In 2011 Cheam ranked in Business in Vancouver 's "Top Forty Under 40," and more recently, in June 2012, her company was awarded funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for their developments in power consumption analytics, and forecasting.
“Our products aim to create better awareness of the way that we use energy, so we can reduce energy waste, save money and contribute to more sustainable behaviours,” says Cheam.
Energy Aware’s PowerTab is a wireless display that receives real-time information about electricity consumption. The concept is that people can walk around their homes and see how their energy expenditure changes depending on which appliances and utilities are in use.
“So if you turned an appliance like a washing machine, dishwasher, or television on and off, you’d see how the costs of your energy consumption changed," adds Cheam. “The idea is that by having the positive reinforcement of awareness and education, you would be more conscious of the fact that using energy costs money.”
The PowerTab works by communicating directly with a Smart Meter. These electricity meters facilitate communication between the meter and utilities or devices in a home, so they don’t need to be monitored in person.
Cheam and her team have made substantial progress selling PowerTabs to electric utilities in Australia, Scandinavia and the US, as well as rolling them out in the Canadian market.
“Whether or not people are motivated by the environment, or they’re motivated by dollars and cents, the point is that they can be educated to change a behaviour that can contribute to a solution,” says Cheam. “Those same people who are educated in their house, take that knowledge to their office. And they take that knowledge to the way they vote. So if you can create awareness about energy, you’re creating awareness about so much more than just electricity consumption.”