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February 19, 2004


Power to spare

Danny and Maurice Tuff of Blue Line Innovations.
Photo by Chris Hammond
Danny and Maurice Tuff of Blue Line Innovations.

By Wade Kearley
North Americans expect energy on demand. But increasing consumption and a lack of affordable, clean new energy sources threaten those expectations. This new reality was underscored by the Aug. 14 blackout that left 50 million people in the dark. As part of the response to that crisis, a major electrical utility in Ontario is ready to launch a demonstration project with a Newfoundland-based company that has strong roots at Memorial.

Maurice Tuff, B.Eng.’01, and brother Daniel Tuff, BA’97, BBA’01, are the brains behind Blue Line Innovations, the company that developed the PowerCost Meter (PCM), a direct feedback device for domestic energy consumers.

Maurice Tuff has studied energy usage since high school. “One pattern that’s interesting to note from the 8/14 blackout is how quickly domestic energy use returned to pre-blackout levels,” he said. “What that means is that with no meaningful and timely feedback – and a bill at the end of the month just doesn’t cut it – homeowners returned to their old habits. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”

With no meaningful and timely feedback, homeowners returned to their old habits.

He points to a 1993 Ontario Hydro study which demonstrates that when homeowners get real-time feedback on the electricity their home is consuming, they can cut up to 20 per cent off their bill – without sacrificing lifestyle. “Adopted on a broad scale, real-time feedback has broad and positive implications for all sectors of the electrical energy industry.”

That’s where the PCM comes in. It includes an easily affixable reader for the outside electric meter and an in-house display unit the size of a desktop clock. It displays in real time how much electricity a home is using. PCM's smart technology also assesses the home's energy use patterns and calculates energy costs based on those values. It also displays equivalent CO2 emissions and kWh.

With the prototype complete, and supported by the National Research Council of Canada and ACOA, Blue Line Innovations has launched a marketing initiative that is attracting the interest of major electrical utilities in Ontario, Ireland, England and Germany. Natural Resources Canada has thrown open the doors to them in Ottawa and the Ontario Ministry of Energy is very interested in the product. They’ve also caught the eye of the David Suzuki Foundation.

Even as they plan to expand off-campus, both Maurice and Danny Tuff are grateful for the mentoring and technical assistance they received at Memorial. The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science has been a strong supporter. “Dr. Ray Gosine and Dr. [Tariq] Iqbal really helped to facilitate our research and development,” said Maurice Tuff.

Hubert W. Kelly chair Dr. Bob Richards in Youth-Focused Technological Entrepreneurship was also important to them. “He was always available. And no matter what the problem he had a positive attitude,” said Danny Tuff. Tom Clift, associate dean, academic programs, is on their thank-you list too. All this support, plus years of late nights and early mornings, has finally put these young innovators and their first product on the map.

“One of the most exciting developments to date came in early February when we met with a major utility in Ontario. They’re preparing now to contract with us to launch a major demonstration project there,” said Danny Tuff. Blue Line also has a deal with Newfoundland Power and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro to conduct a smaller scale demonstration project here. Blue Line’s marketing representative is in Europe for February. And he’s calling with good news. “We’ve had one meeting with the largest investor-held utility in Britain and they want more details about the terms of a contract for a demonstration project there.”

There are 110 million households in North America alone that could use this product says Maurice Tuff. “We’re convinced that consumers’ increased awareness of the need to conserve energy, plus the direct savings that people will see with the PowerCost Meter, gives us the potential to attract a strong market share.”

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Next issue: March 4, 2004

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