Powering progress through innovation: Meralco’s continuing drive to spark creativity and cigital transformation

UP Diliman students were hailed as the Meralco IDOL Hackathon Champion for the creation of mobile app, One. The winning group poses for a photo with (from L-R) Meralco FVP and Head of Information, Communications, Technology and Transformation Rocky D. Bacani; Meralco Head of Customer System and Process Information Miel G. Lanting; (from 3rd from right) Meralco AVP & Head of Commercial Strategy & Business Performance Ralph M. Menchavez; Meralco Head of Network Technology and Asset Management Jose S. Reyes, Jr.; and Meralco Power Academy Program Management Director Marc Lester P. Malibiran.

In its relentless pursuit to drive creativity and digital transformation even beyond the organization, the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) has set in motion a celebration of the flourishing culture of innovation.

During its first-ever Innovation Month, the company brought together employees, partners, and even students for the IDOL (Innovative, Digital, Original, Leading-edge) events. Included in this month-long celebration are the IDOL Hackathon and Tech Talk events which showcased fresh ideas and learnings that are beneficial in the midst of the ever-evolving energy landscape.

UP Diliman shines at the first IDOL Hackathon

Meralco Power Academy (MPA), Meralco’s education provider unit, empowered the best and brightest young Filipinos to showcase energy-related technology solutions through its inaugural IDOL Hackathon — a student competition that centered around the theme “Powering the Good Life Thru Data, Digital & Sustainable Innovation.”

Opened to the six partner schools of MPA, a total of 29 students from 11 teams from participating schools — University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) Manila, and Technological Institute of the Philippine (TIP) — submitted their entries to the competition.

Participants underwent a two-week program that allowed them to work in groups to develop software or hardware projects, with the end goal of creating functioning products that can enhance convenience and improve the lives of its users.

Group One, composed of B.S. in Computer Science majors from UP Diliman, bested the nine finalists for creating a mobile application that can track real-time electricity consumption. The app, which they named One, can send alert notifications once consumption exceeds user-defined limits as well as compute possible monthly electricity bills.

Members of the winning team identified as Rodrigo Emmanuel Roy, Krisha Anne Chan, Judelle Clareese Gaza and Luis de los Reyes believed that the mobile app directly solves the problem of access to information regarding real-time power usage, enabling customers to minimize electricity use to maximize savings.

Group One’s concept was born out of their common desire to be more mindful of their energy usage, with the team saying: “We were too busy to ensure that we were able to turn off unused appliances. This frustration sparked an idea. We envisioned a mobile app to monitor electricity consumption, calculate costs, and automate homes for optimal efficiency.”

Enhancing Efficiency and Promoting Renewable Energy

Meanwhile, the revolutionary AI-based app, ElectrifAI, created by B.S. in Electronics Engineering students from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines-Manila was named the 1st runner-up.

Collectively known as Pentatronics, the team said the ElectrifAI seeks to enhance power distribution efficiency by locating power leakage problems to ensure that energy is utilized effectively. “We have witnessed the devastating impact of illegal electricity tapping, affecting not only our families but many others. Our solution aims to reduce both the stress and the cost of electricity bills,” the group said. 

The power usage effectiveness, a crucial indicator of how efficiently power is being used, tracks losses and leaks on the power utility’s end. A smart grid solution is integrated into the app to analyze real-time data from the electricity distribution network, resulting in a sophisticated monitoring system that can identify issues such as damaged wires. Advanced information from the app will enable quick response from line crew to limit disruptions in identified areas.

Its capacity to prevent unlawful electrical tapping, an issue that many utilities encounter, is one noteworthy feature, preserving income and the reliability of the power network. The mobile app also gives consumers real-time data about their power consumption. This fosters energy saving and gives consumers the power to decide how much electricity they should use.

Taking the second runner-up spot was TIP Manila’s team of B.S. in Electrical Engineering majors, EEnovators, which designed Wisdom Beams, a streetlight powered by solar and wind energy.

These renewable energy sources are the most readily available in areas where streetlights are erected, according to the team members as they underscored that their proposed streetlight design cannot be affected by power interruptions, thereby illuminating dark roads to address the safety and security concerns of the community.

“After several brainstorming sessions, we envisioned a future where we utilize streetlights that are both eco-friendly and self-sustaining. These streetlights are supported with vertical-axis wind turbine and axial flux generator powered by sun and wind resources to generate its own electricity,” the group said.

Propelling Innovations

The top three teams — Group One, Pentatronics, and EEnovators — emerged from an initial 29 teams that joined the competition.

IDOL program leads, Mark Ramos, Head of Enterprise Architecture and Innovation; and Julius Perry Dominguez, Head of Innovation Labs, underscored their engagement with student participants at the kick-off.

Mr. Ramos highlighted Meralco’s commitment to promote innovation, emphasizing how valuable ideas and solutions emanate from diverse sources, including young students. Mr. Dominguez, for his part, expressed hope that this hackathon marks the commencement of their transformative journey, unlocking numerous opportunities for their future.

The nine teams who advanced to the finals underwent a one-week boot camp for technical and soft skills training. In addition, they were granted seed money, provided with mentorship from the One Meralco subject matter experts, and were given access to the Meralco Power Tech, Meralco’s research and development facility, to jump-start their projects.

A team of Meralco experts evaluated the projects for their value proposition, feasibility, completeness, practicality, and overall potential.

Meralco First Vice-President and Head of Information, Communications, Technology and Transformation Rocky D. Bacani emphasized the importance of the students’ journey from the presentation of the problem to finding a creative tech-based solution.

“It reminds us of the need to look to the future, learning from the past, and embracing forward-thinking approaches. Our Hackathon is not just about solving isolated challenges. It is about creating lasting solutions that can pave the way for a better, more sustainable future,” Mr. Bacani said.

Meralco IDOL Hackathon aims to inspire and empower the next generation of tech enthusiasts and problem solvers by harnessing smart and digital innovation to address energy efficiency and environmental preservation.

Customer Experience at the Heart of Meralco IDOL Tech Talk

Another significant undertaking as part of Meralco’s Innovation Month was Tech Talk, where discussions centered on emerging technologies that boost customer experience and satisfaction.

Since navigating the way through a landscape of technological evolution can be daunting, the company wanted to inspire new ideas and explore the possibilities that technology and innovation bring through its first IDOL Tech Talk.

With the theme “WATTS NEXT: Energizing the Digital Shift,” the event featured five technology experts who tackled emerging technologies that focus on digital grid, digital customer, and digital enterprise.

Nokia Asia Pacific-Japan Head of Enterprise Solutions Mathew Simon, in his talk “Future Utility Network — Empowered for the New Energy Future,” emphasized how smart grid technologies revolutionize power utilities. To unleash the full potential of smart grids, utilities need a smart communications infrastructure that can route information effectively, efficiently and on time, according to Mr. Simon.

With the increasing adoption of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) globally, Nipun Jain, Business Director in Asia and Africa for AI-solutions provider Bidgely, Inc. highlighted the significant value that can be driven from the data produced by smart meters. In his talk “Leveraging Data for AMI,” Mr. Jain noted how utilities can also use AMI to enhance customer engagement, manage the grid, and even detect energy theft.

Tech Talk speakers participated in a panel discussion to discuss how emerging technologies can shape the future of the power industry.

Salesforce Senior Solutions Engineer Renz Valdeabella, in his talk “The Power of AI and Data in Building Trust with Your Customers,” meanwhile, discussed the importance of building and fostering trust in today’s digital landscape through AI and data. Mr. Valdeabella pointed out that this can be achieved by delivering a hyper-personalized experience to boost customer relationship management.

Complementing Mr. Valdeabella’s talk was Amazon Web Services (AWS) Philippines Senior Solutions Architect Paul Sears’ talk on “Customer Behavioral Trends in the Digital Era” — which provided a deep dive into strategies, trends, and technologies such as AI and machine learning that drive customer satisfaction.

Natalie Lo, Google Workspace New Business Specialist for Philippines and Vietnam, rounded up the series of talks with her topic on “Supercharging Employee Experience Through Google Workspace Duet AI.” Focusing on the future of work, Ms. Lo talked about the transformative power of generative AI and technologies in shaping the way employees approach productivity in the ever-changing landscape of work. Daily desk tasks such as composing email messages through AI have become more intelligent, helping users connect more meaningfully, said Ms. Lo.

The Meralco IDOL Tech Talk yielded fruitful discussions and exchange of ideas and learnings, aptly aligned with the objective of Meralco’s Innovation Month to transform and futureproof Meralco.

Meralco Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer Ronnie L. Aperocho emphasized that this can help us visualize how technology impacts the future of power industry.

“We aim to unlock the transformative power of advanced technologies in revolutionizing the way we operate our business, engage and serve our customers. By gaining insights into their needs, desires, and aspirations, we can tailor-fit our products and services to meet their evolving demands,” concluded Mr. Aperocho.

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