Like the transportation sector before it, the energy sector is finally starting to standardize and open up its data, bringing new opportunities for people like all of us to do interesting things with it. Initiatives like the PAP10 will ensure that there is a standardized information model of energy usage that facilitates national smart grids and also allows individual consumers and other entities access to energy-use data. In addition, some states have already mandated customer access to meter-based information (hopefully we will see anonymized data at a zipcode level following this), paving the way for neighborhood energy competitions and more. Meanwhile, San Francisco is one of the first cities to require commercial buildings to take part in the Energy Manager Portfolio system, which helps owners track, assess and compare energy and water usage in individual buildings, thereby creating an incentive to reduce consumption.
These standards and initiatives are moving us towards a more transparent energy sector, and we couldn’t be happier. However, while research institutes, governments, and think-tanks are working hard to open up data and create standards, it is up to our community of developers, planners, activists, urbanists, artists, and others to dig deep into how and for whom this energy information might most benefit. In particular, how can open (and user-generated) information be used to address the fact that America’s buildings account for approximately 40% of total US energy consumption (according to the U.S. Department of Energy) and that 30% of buildings’ energy is simply wasted (The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).
This brings us to the second reason why this weekend is so exciting. With an estimated 100+ people coming together from all backgrounds, we can start to generate a real understanding of stakeholder needs, and incentives that can be used to power these new energy applications, projects, and ideas. These incentives can include, but should also get beyond high-level objectives – like saving the environment or doing it for the greater good. For example, we could imagine an app that targets facility managers (our custodians of energy-use in buildings) and turns them into heroes for managing their building in the most efficient manner. Equally, we could imagine interplay between tenants who spot energy inefficiencies in their building and building owners who wish to keep quality tenants while also saving money. Or how about an app for individuals, which not only allows them to keep track of their ‘good energy deeds’ but also equates this with something meaningful, like how much money or trees you are saving, in a gaming environment?
What is clear is that the energy sector is ripe for innovation at the public level, starting from the bottom up. It’s happened in transportation, and now it is energy’s turn. We have already seen a response to energy use in the material sciences sector (think improved LED lighting, low-impact or better-insulated materials or solar panels), through policy changes (one-quarter of all cities have already set targets for the use of renewable energy), and in the construction of real-time energy management systems and smart-grids, and now it is time for the Summer of Smart participants to take advantage of increasingly public data sets and use them to power the next generation of energy saving apps, project, and ideas.
Perhaps the best part of the hackathon mentality is that we have absolutely no idea what will emerge from this weekend – and I couldn’t be more excited to find out.