Helping Filipinos save on electricity bills
The experience is so common to Filipinos as to be almost archetypical: The monthly electricity bill arrives in the mail, and the household members are surprised to see just how high their balance is.
The startup, WattSmart (funded by Ideaspace Foundation), aims to eliminate such sticker shock consumers get from their monthly electricity bills. Co-founder and chief executive officer Jaafgie Garcia explained how the WattSmart system works.
The WattSmart team began doing energy audits in 2013. For instance, they helped a dental clinic address a few issues with how it consumed energy. After going through Ideaspace Foundation’s competition, they realized the scale of this problem and began to develop the energy management platform they are now using.
How WattSmart works
Garcia’s team installs sensors and the WattSmart data center collect information from the branch circuit level. This system allows them to monitor the household items that have a dedicated power line, such as air conditioners, water pumps, water heaters, and sometimes also lights and convenience outlets. The WattSmart platform monitors this consumption, then provides its users reports on their energy consumption.
In this way, WattSmart helps its users mitigate the wasting of electricity. Garcia was quick to point out that what constitutes “waste” may vary from user to user, but that there are easy guidelines that can be used to better self-evaluate our own electricity usage.
“The key to answering this is benchmarking, and knowing how you compare to the rest of the world,” Garcia said.
He cited the case of a hypothetical family who has the air conditioner on most of the time and is more than happy to pay for it. Yet if this family finds out that they are spending more than 50% on air conditioning than their neighbors, they may want to reassess their habits.
In general, people prize productivity and comfort when it comes to electricity usage over its absolute cost. For instance, a business would not reduce its electricity usage just to save money if it meant that its employees were less productive and its customers less comfortable, Garcia said.
Benchmarking is key
Yet, there is a point where you can reduce consumption and remain as productive and as comfortable as before. This is the advocacy at the heart of the WattSmart system – it wants Filipinos to better optimize their resources.
“Benchmarking challenges us to look into our own behaviors and use patterns and asks us to consider that maybe what we’re doing can be improved,” Garcia said. “It’s important for Filipinos to monitor usage because that’s the best way to optimize energy consumption.”
“The general problem is the lack of understanding of how electricity is consumed; there’s a feeling of being powerless when the electricity bill comes,” Garcia said.
He added that his team wants to provide users with more knowledge because it usually leads to realizations on how to modify behavior, upgrade equipment or otherwise optimize consumption.
Such changes can include using alternative sources of energy, such as solar photovoltaic. Garcia said that solar photovoltaic systems are gaining traction in the market. The size of the solar photovoltaic system for one’s household will be determined by your energy consumption profile, Garcia shared.
Payment schemes can also be modified. A consumer can strike a time of use contract with their electricity utility. For example, Manila Electric Company (Meralco) has a peak/off-peak rates program that allows customers to pay for cheaper electricity costs when consuming power during “pre-defined off peak hours.”
Overall, a system like WattSmart is only as beneficial if consumers are willing to be disciplined about their electricity consumption.
Discipline will inevitably vary from person to person, but Garcia is encouraging Filipinos to look at the bigger picture. “While a lot are more than capable to pay for it, electricity is a resource just like any other. It is finite, and it can run out with terrible consequences to our economy,” Garcia said.
The feared power shortage in Luzon this summer also comes to mind, a period when consumers are challenged to rethink about how they use electricity.
“Remember how our parents used to teach us about eating every grain of rice. It’s the same thing,” Garcia said. – Rappler.com
Rappler Business columnist Ezra Ferraz is also the chief content officer at ZipMatch, a tech company backed by Ideaspace Foundation, Hatchd Digital, IMJ Investment Partners, and 500 Startups. He brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Connect with him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz
Photos from WattSmart