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The Book of Energy is the “app with the most impact” at SXSW Eco Hackathon!

2012 October 9

my teammates and I at SXSW Eco hackathon…Ashish, me, Justin, and Zach (L to R)

This past week, I traveled to Austin, Texas to participate in the SXSW Eco Conference and Hackathon. With a free pass from Greenstart, I decided to take a couple days off from work, book a plane ticket, and head out to Austin f0r some networking. I only learned about the hackathon in the few days leading up to the conference, as the Department of Energy and the White House jointly held an Energy Datapalooza last Monday, releasing all sorts of new energy data sets as a part of the Open Data Initiative. Then, DOE announced it would be co-sponsoring the hackathon and sending representatives out to provide guidance and support.

So what exactly is a hackathon? Well, this hackathon lasted 24 hours, and the object was to use some of these newly released data sets to create a new app or product idea. Each team comprised a couple programmers and a couple subject matter experts. A novice programmer myself, I assumed the role of team leader and data guru, having worked – at least tangentially – with a number of the datasets previously. I recruited a back-end Python developer and a front-end developer to help make everything look pretty and functional. My teammates were three Austin locals either working in the energy or software space. Prior to Thursday at noon, we did not know each other.

I had an idea going in to create “The Book of Energy,” which would be an app for professionals of all kinds to gain “training and tools in the energy economy”. The idea would be to completely reform and improve how energy education and skills training is done in the energy sector, whether you’re a salesman, a contractor, a tax accountant, a building energy manager, or any other profession that is directly or tangentially involved with the energy sector. My teammates liked my idea, but with only 24 hours, we would only be able to accomplish so much. We narrowed our focus down to creating one tool for one profession: an app for the sales force of Lowe’s, Home Depot, and other major retail outlets to compare the efficiency attributes of various appliances while helping potential customers on the floor. The added impetus was that we learned Lowe’s had just rolled out iPads for all of its sales force.

Current energy labels for efficient appliances include the ENERGY STAR certification label run by the EPA and the Energy Guide yellow label, mandated by the Federal Trade Commission. The yellow label provides info on estimated annual electricity use and annual operating cost, based on an average retail electricity price in the U.S. Our team used an EIA xml dataset of retail electricity prices by city and state to localize that operating cost based on where the customer was purchasing an appliance. An electricity cost of $0.20/kWh in Boston, MA is more than twice the cost in Louisville, Kentucky, and this information should be more easily available to the consumer. We used ENERGY STAR product datasets and price data scraped from retail outlet websites. In the end, our mockup app compared a particular appliance on the floor to a product of baseline efficiency. It showed the incremental cost of the more efficient appliance, as well as payback period and net savings over the lifetime of the appliance in graphical form.

Over six million refrigerators are sold in the U.S. every year, and our app has the potential to increase percentage of efficient refrigerators sold. At the end of the 24 hour period, DOE selected The Book of Energy as the “app with the most impact”. There were four other teams (a couple vehicle/driving apps, and two home and commercial building energy apps) that also received recognition. It was one of those “every team gets an award” situations, but our team was still really happy with our mockup product and award. We hope to continue working on it, and get some demos tested in retail outlets around the U.S. to get real feedback on the product. For more information and the mockup, log on to www.thebookofenergy.info. Click on “energy efficiency sales tool – appliances”. (link may not be working now, trying to figure it out, and get the site back up!) Lastly, I was so stoked about our product and my experience, that I had to write an eco-rap about it. And also below is our Slide Rocket ppt with more explanation of our business idea. Enjoy! And provide feedback!

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