by Somi Jun '20
In 2012, Princeton’s Office of Sustainability began a partnership with Savraj Singh ‘03 to track and visualize the university’s live energy usage. The collaboration with Singh’s company, Wattvision, has since culminated in Tiger Energy, which breaks down campus energy supply and usage in colorful, easy-to-understand charts.
The idea for Wattvision first occurred to Singh in 2008. Barack Obama was running for president for the first time, and Savraj Singh ‘03 was at home again, five years after graduating as one of the first Computer Science concentrators from Princeton University. Former President Obama had given his “New Energy for America” speech, calling on all Americans to save energy in their homes and businesses. Taking Obama’s call-to-action to heart, Singh looked for a way to track his own household’s energy usage, but came up blank.
“I was like, hmm, well, I have a computer science degree with electrical engineering background from Princeton. I can probably make this thing,” Singh said.
He and his father, a former aerospace engineer, spent the next year developing a prototype for what would become Wattvision, a system for tracking live energy use with the ideal result of helping people get “off the grid.” Through Y Combinator, a start up accelerator that Fortune called “a spawning ground for emerging tech giants,” and Kickstarter, Singh raised the funds he needed to redesign Wattvision’s hardware and produce it on a wider scale. Since then, Wattvision has grown to serve thousands of users and now collects more than one billion energy data points per month (a point pairs energy data and a timestamp, and is collected every ten seconds). The household energy information is then uploaded to an easily accessible cloud. “It’s like Fitbit for your home’s energy use,” Singh said.
Over the years, the Tiger Energy website and mobile app developed by Wattvision for Princeton has continued to develop with input from students. For example, the app now facilitates a student “Do It In the Dark” Energy Competition, which compares how much energy each residential college saves. Tiger Energy also serves as a resource for students to study campus energy systems and usage through the Campus as Lab program. Students can access historical data for a course or an independent work project by using the API data download option on the website. For research ideas, visit the Campus as Lab research question page.
“It’s the best kind of software, because we made it just for what Princeton needs,” Singh said. “Without the university’s interest and support, I don’t know if we’d still have Wattvision now.”
While Singh has been focusing on Wattvision for the past seven years, he worked at Microsoft from 2003 to 2007 as program manager of the Office User Experience team. In that role, he researched and pitched ways to update Office features, but left in 2007 to work on another startup with two friends. After the startup fell apart, he returned home to Pennington, New Jersey, where he stayed until 2009, when he launched Wattvision.
“In the startup world… there’s just story after story after story of ridiculous success,” Singh said. “And the fact of the matter is, most startups might have glimmers of hope, but very few get to that crazy scale of crazy success. So there’s a lot of -- well, it’s like a rollercoaster. There are a lot of times when you’re like, what am I doing with my life? I should have stayed at Microsoft and just done the standard route that everyone does.”
Now that Wattvision is on “cruise-control,” with the system’s core architecture set up, Singh has more time to focus on his next venture. He recently became CTO of Daily Harvest, a ready-to-blend smoothie company that promotes sustainability by making organic superfoods more accessible.
“I liked the taste of the smoothies, so I was like, why not?” Singh said. “You’ve got to work on things that you enjoy, and who doesn’t enjoy smoothies?”
Come meet Savraj at the Campus as Lab Lunch Seminar: Energy & Entrepreneurship on Tuesday, February 28th from 12pm to 1pm in the Butler Special Dining Room.