Ampotech offers a new way to easily monitor electricity usage

7/12/2016 Katie Carr, CSL

ADSC researchers have developed a technology that allows facilities to monitor their electricity usage without making major modifications to electrical distribution panels.

Written by Katie Carr, CSL

Researchers at the Advanced Digital Sciences Center (ADSC) have developed a technology that allows facilities to monitor their electricity usage in finer granularity without making major modifications to a space’s electrical distribution panels. As a result, building owners could avoid the cost and disruption that would occur from rewiring or replacing components, particularly in older buildings.

Based on the technology, Senior Research Scientist Binbin Chen and Senior Research Engineer William Temple formed a Singapore-based spinoff company, Ampotech, last year, along with co-founder, Ziling Zhou, who was with the National University of Singapore before joining the team.

Ampotech sensors are installed above circuit breaker switches and monitor energy usage.
Ampotech sensors are installed above circuit breaker switches and monitor energy usage.
Ampotech sensors are installed above circuit breaker switches and monitor energy usage.
Ampotech is an energy monitoring and data analytics company that provides hardware and software enabling building owners to see where their energy is being used and to analyze that data. The basis of the product, AmpoSense, is a patent-pending, circuit-level energy monitoring system where users simply stick an array of sensors above circuit breaker switches to measure the magnetic field and determine energy usage of each individual branch. It is based on a technology Chen and his ADSC colleague, Sreejaya Viswanathan, designed and prototyped about three years ago. Since it licensed out the technology, Ampotech has significantly improved the readiness of the technology and also developed complimentary software—AmpoCloud—to complete their solution by allowing users to manage and track a building's electricity usage in real-time via the cloud.

All buildings have a number of fuse boxes or electrical distribution panels where the incoming power supply is split into different circuits or branches. Each branch powers a different piece of equipment or space, such as lighting, wall outlets, a washing machine, or a refrigerator.

“Our solution gives people a way to monitor the energy use on each of those branches without having to replace any components or make any major changes to the panel,” Chen said. “It turns circuit breakers into smart meters.”

While there are existing products, such as CT-based solutions or DIN rail-mounted meters, that monitor energy being used in a building or floor, Ampotech provides users a way to see the end use. Additionally, current products are challenging and costly to install, while Ampotech’s technology provides the same data using a stick-on device.

“Older buildings don’t have a lot of energy monitoring infrastructure and the owners often don’t want to invest in making major changes,” Temple said. “Our system helps solve that problem since it’s so easy to install and receive data.”

Ampotech has been awarded the 2-Stage Innovation Grant (iGrant) from Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority. The grant allows the team to further develop the technology and bring it closer to a commercially-ready state. The team has completed the first phase of the project and is now working on late-stage development, running multiple pilot projects as they test the technology in field environments.

“This is a totally new product, so it’s not something people are familiar with or know already,” Chen said. “We spent a lot of time trying to find the right target market. When we first developed it, we knew the technology was innovative, but users won’t buy it just because it’s cool. They’ll buy it because it’s useful.”

Last summer, the researcher installed their technology on two panels in a Singapore-based electronics manufacturing company with two production lines. They focused on analyzing equipment energy usage and operating patterns and were able to identify opportunities to achieve 10 percent in energy savings during the two-month project.

“One advantage we were able to offer them is help in enforcing energy saving rules and policies,” Chen said. “In a factory, they have policies where a machine should only be used when another is in operation, for example. These policies can’t easily be enforced, but with our system in place, we can provide real-time monitoring of these rules and send notifications to a manager when a policy is being violated.”

The team is beginning another pilot project with a property developer in Singapore that will focus on office space energy usage and is geared toward educating the employees on ways they can help the office become more energy efficient.

“The scope of the project is a lot larger. We’re going from tens to hundreds of branches being monitored,” Temple said. “We’ll be monitoring energy usage of their lights, computers, microwave, refrigerator, and the like and communicating with the workers to help encourage energy efficiency.”

Ampotech plans to have a version commercially available by the end of 2016, as they’ve already had significant interest from potential partners and companies.

“It’s an exciting technology because electricity is such a basic need,” Temple said. “Homes, offices, factories, schools—they all use similar panels and wiring, so the opportunity is big. This system can change the way organizations and homeowners monitor their energy use to deliver substantial savings.” 

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This story was published July 12, 2016.