Developing an incredibly adaptable and inexpensive electricity sensor for emerging markets
We started Local Energy Technology to overcome electricity access hurdles by making pay-as-you-go electricity plans possible. To do this, we made the first smart meter emerging market utilities could afford -- so inexpensive, that we could distribute meters, at no cost, with subscription plans.
My role: In conjunction with directing procurement and the build-of-materials (BOM), I developed and prototyped different smart metering product strategies. I did this in parallel to designing the sensoring platform's interface.
What is the LET sensing product?
When I began, the meter was roughly prototyped and the build of materials was nonexistent. I compiled a master BOM to understand procurement timelines, pricing and component ramifications on design decisions.
I coordinated PCB sizes with the electrical engineering team and configured the components into a ubiquitous box for investor and customer demonstrations.
I selected a high-density polyethylene (HDPE) for this first demonstration unit and coordinated the CNC fabrication.
Key problem: the Haitian electricity sector has incredibly varied conditions.
My field research in Haiti and other similar non-formal conditions in LatAm showcased electricity landscapes with improvised connections and frequent brownouts and blackouts. Climate resilience, lack of operation protocols, power variability, installation procedures and maintenance, theft prevention, cost, and firmware updates were some of our key design constraints.
How could the meter accommodate and adapt to many different conditions?
Our key innovation was developing an ecosystem where end-users’ cellphone balance could remotely determine power provision through a cellular signal in the meter. With each embedded system iteration, our team reduced the size and cost considerably, containing our proprietary system in a double-sided, 2.5x2.5 inch PCB.
Instead of enclosing the meter in a single box, we could hide our proprietary brain inside of a box, concealing it from weather and installation and maintenance personal. This allowed the main, bigger enclosure to contain components that could be swapped out or changed to meet new electricity conditions, such as lower power current and wire sizes.
After many PCB, component and enclosure iterations, I directed our pilot in Haiti
To prove our system to local partners, we deployed a small batch of meters in December, 2012.
Our live pilot system successfully connected electricity metering in Haiti with a web interface. The pilot user controlled power service with SMS payments.