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Energy-savings apps contest builds on Ontario’s smart meter plan

More than 4.7 million smart meters have been rolled out to homes and small business consumers across Ontario. The province is seeking new apps that will provide insights on consumption patterns, as well as tips and tools to help customers make more informed decisions.

Brett Beadle/The Globe and Mail

Given that we can now buy coffee, balance chequing accounts and record our favourite TV shows from the palms of our hands, it was only a matter of time before someone decided that monitoring and controlling home energy consumption should become a mobile activity, too.

Ontario's decision to partner with the MaRS Discovery District earlier this week to launch the Energy Apps for Ontario Challenge represents another way to harness the technological potential of our seemingly ubiquitous smartphones and tablets. It could also mark the start of a new era of energy education.

"The Energy Apps for Ontario Challenge will encourage the creation of apps that could reduce your electricity bill and make better use of the energy you pay for," Ontario Minister of Energy Bob Chiarelli says. "Through the challenge, we are offering $50,000 in awards to app developers for the most innovative, useful and effective Green Button apps for Ontario's consumers.

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"These apps could go a long way to help us better manage our electricity consumption, to mitigate costs at home, while benefiting the province system-wide. For consumers, that is the next great step in managing electricity use and making lifestyle choices that help keep costs down."

The development of these apps, which will occur after the close of the competition in early January, are the latest tool in the province's quest to reduce energy wastage.

Through conservation, Ontario homeowners, businesses and industry have already saved more than 1,900 megawatts of peak demand electricity since 2005 – the equivalent of more than 600,000 homes being taken off the grid – and have allowed the province to avoid building new capacity that would have cost almost $4-billion, the Energy Department says.

The apps represent a technological extension of the current Green Button Download My Data program, which allows consumers to access their usage information on a desktop computer or laptop.

To date, five local distribution centres (LDCs) – London Hydro, Hydro One, Toronto Hydro, PowerStream and Hydro Ottawa – have all implemented the Download my Data feature, with five more – Guelph Hydro, Milton Hydro, Festival Hydro, North Bay Hydro and Peterborough Utilities – recently committing to providing their customers with access to the program.

The problem remains, though, that while many LDCs provide customers with energy consumption information in a variety of formats – through a full rollout of more than 4.7 million smart meters to homes and small business consumers across the province – they provide a limited amount of analysis of that data. The province expects the new mobile apps to not only be able to perform that analysis, but also to be able to offer both information and insights on consumption patterns, as well as tips and tools to help customers make more informed decisions.

For example, being able to take advantage of off-peak pricing, controlling when and how often to use high-energy appliances, and allowing consumers to see how their own energy usage compares with their neighbourhood average could all be available through the new apps.

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By raising Ontarians' awareness of their exact consumption, the apps could also help customers plan energy-efficiency retrofits and help determine the size as well as finance rooftop solar panels.

Ontario estimates that for every $1 invested in energy efficiency, the province avoids about $2 in costs to the electricity system. The $50,000 prize money being offered to the winners of the Energy Apps for Ontario Challenge may also open the doors to more savings down the road.

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