Students create program to track electricity use

Rebecca Savransky, Campus Editor

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A group of Northwestern students were awarded funds from the Clean Energy Challenge earlier this month for a program they created to track personal electricity use.

Team members said the original idea to create the program, called MeterGenius, stemmed out of their participation in the class NUvention: Energy, offered as a collaborative course to both undergraduate and graduate students. They said they created the program in an effort to make customers more aware of their energy consumption.

“MeterGenius is an energy efficiency software essentially and it allows residence electricity users to view their electricity use in real time, or near real time, and to understand it and earn rewards,” said Weinberg senior Hillary Hass, one of the members of the team.

They said the team originally decided to apply for the Clean Energy Challenge after it was brought up during the class. Upon learning they won, they said they were excited and looking forward to expanding their product.

“There were tons of great, really innovative sustainable technologies that we competed against,” said graduate student Ty Benefiel, another member of the group. “There were some very impressive technologies, and really we were honored to just be competing amongst them.”

Hass said the team initially thought about creating a smart power strip device before speaking with several electricity suppliers across the country and deciding to go in a different direction. She said through talking with various providers, the team identified the most common problems in an effort to come up with solutions.

However, the group did not actually begin production on MeterGenius until the class was completed.

“During the class, we just did customer development kind of and fleshed out the idea, and then we started actually creating it a few months after the class,” Hass said.

Benefiel said the team had a customer commit to pilot the product prior to it actually being created, noting the team was just in the “idea phase” at that point.

The current product includes the ability to track individual’s electricity consumption with the potential to accumulate enough points to obtain certain rewards for one’s efficiency. It also includes options to view energy use in comparison to an individual’s community and gives customers “genius tips,” to save money and improve energy efficiency.

“Right now, it is such a relatively low cost compared to your other bills that people don’t really care about it when looking at it from just a money standpoint,” Benefial said. “What we’re trying to do is, regardless of what you think about the environment or anything like that, we’re trying to push or increase engagement among residential users of electricity with their electricity consumption.”

The application is being tested through a pilot program in Texas involving about 3,000 participants. Team members said they had been receiving positive feedback in response to the pilot. Customers involved gave comments saying they shared the application with their friends and were thrilled their electricity supplier was giving them a tool they could use to check their consumption regularly.

Team members added that in the future, they are planning to create a mobile app, in addition to initiating more pilot programs and expanding the product to several other states.

Hass said because this is a concept she has felt passionate about for an extended period of time, she is excited to be making a difference in the field of energy sustainability.

“I think energy sustainability is extremely important for everyone,” she said. “I think legitimately it is something that is really important and something that more people need to focus on and be aware of.”

Twitter: @beccasavransky