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The Bulletin

Startup fights power thieves, pot growers

Posting in Energy

Billions of dollars worth of electricity is stolen each year by folks tapping into power lines to bring free energy into their homes, businesses and increasingly, to their indoor pot growing operations. It's an incessant global problem that's expected to get worse as demand for power grows.

Awesense, a Canadian startup that has remained largely under the radar since its founding in 2009, has launched a service to help utilities curb power losses and recover revenue lost by theft, transformer overloads and other equipment failures.

The company has developed a product called the SenseNET system, which combines hardware, data analytics, networking and advanced monitoring to pinpoint power losses from equipment failures and power diversion (aka theft) caused by meter tampering or wire "tapping."

How it works

The heart of the system is the SenseNET Monitor, a networked sensor that clips onto transmission and distribution lines. Utility workers can attach a networked sensor in less than two minutes with a hot stick or a truck to wirelessly monitor that particular section of the grid via a laptop or tablet in real time. The sensors, which are connected through a wireless mesh network, can help the utility identify inefficiencies and power theft. Once the problem has been fixed, the utility can move the sensors to a different section of the grid.

Canadian utility Fortis BC is using the sensor technology. An unnamed U.S. utility with about 34,000 meters and 1,800 miles of energized lines has deployed the SenseNET system under a service contract. Utilities in Malaysia, Turkey, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic also will begin trials of the service in the first quarter of the year.

In the past, Awesense sold its technology as a turn-key system to utilities. Now, the company is selling it as a service that doesn't require the utility to make an upfront capital investment. Once a utility signs on and begins using the service, Awesense is paid through a percentage of recovered revenue.

Global problem

Those recovered revenues could be substantial. In India alone, about 27 percent of the power generated gets siphoned off through theft, costing the nation's distribution companies an estimated $16 billion a year, according to India's Central Electricity Authority. Globally, $202 billion worth of electricity generated is lost each year due to technical failures or theft, according to World Bank estimates.

Energy theft is a problem in developed nations as well. Energy diversion, like when an illegal pot growing operation taps into a power line, costs U.S. utilities an estimated $6 billion a year, making electricity the third most stolen commodity behind credit card information and cars, according to data provided by Awesense.

Graphic: Awesense

— By on January 22, 2013, 2:27 AM PST

Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure