PowWow Energy Combines Savings & Sustainability

Caught between a drought and a hard place, California faces one of its driest years in history.  With water conservation on everyone’s mind, UC Santa Barbara alumnus Olivier Jerphagnon and his start-up company PowWow Energy have made it their mission to contribute to solutions for water and energy efficiency.

PowWow’s smart leak detector™ beat out over 400 companies to receive the Cleantech Open 2013 National Prize for accelerating technology to solve environmental issues.  According to Jerphagnon, “This validates that our product is good for both the consumer and the cause of fighting climate change.”   

Olivier Jerphagnon (center) at the Cleantech Open 2013.

The smart leak detector™ identifies abnormal behavior in farmers’ irrigation systems through the energy data collected, which can lead to the early detection of leaks, saving not only dollars but also water, energy and crops. Energy and water are intimately intertwined in a so-called energy-water nexus. Twenty percent of California’s energy is used to move water. Reversely, 50 percent of the fresh water in the United States is used for energy. “The more we move water, the more we consume energy. The more we use energy, the more we waste water. It is not sustainable," stated Jerphagnon.

PowWow is tackling both issues in the field with farmers and utilities. Farmers’ use of energy remains a significant challenge for utilities because they use a lot of power during peak hours in the summer, and it is not uncommon to see brownouts in rural areas. “We have developed a leak detection software that uses electrical signatures of the pump to find leaks,” said Jerphagnon.  PowWow works with utilities through the Green Button initiative to leverage the data from the smart meters already in place. Famers do not need to install a new sensor.

pump and meter farm
Farm with a smart meter and water pump in California.


The idea of using Green Button data to reduce energy consumption was developed in a meeting with The Institute for Energy Efficiency’s John Bowers and David Auston. The first prototype was developed last spring during a Capstone project. “We looked at how students and the staff on campus reacted to energy alerts,” said Jerphagnon. PowWow learned that it is critical to align the motivations of end-users and the public to induce a permanent change in behavior to improve efficiency.

Jerphagnon grew up around farms in France but developed his entrepreneurship roots at UC Santa Barbara, where he says he first caught the “start-up bug” during a class in 1998.  He was one of the four students who convinced the Dean of the College of Engineering to launch an entrepreneurship center, which became the Technology Management Program. Looking back, he stated, “UCSB has become a part of my DNA. It gave me the willingness to become a leader and take risks to address big problems.” Yet he is still learning as an entrepreneur. PowWow entered the Cleantech Open last June, and learned during the Accelerator process that a successful cleantech start-up integrates sustainability within a problem that a customer is willing to pay to solve.

For more information on PowWow Energy, go to www.powwowenergy.com.

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