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Britain’s Energy Data Hacked – For Behavioral Change

Ann-Danylkiw | Thursday November 4th, 2010 | 1 Comment

It’s a shocking case of a government making good on a campaign promise:  British government ministries have made their energy usage data available online, in many instances in real time. The ensuing task is figuring out what to do with it. For the first time, we are getting a glimpse at the first apps for carbon behavioral change– business and consumer alike.

The applications are the result of a Hackweekend put on by Rewired State and in association with 10:10, Carbon Culture, AMEE, and Sandbag, hosted by the Guardian.  Apps for behavioral change were the order of the day, and the best recognized in different categories. Behavioral change is most easily achieved when concepts (policies) are made accessible and relational to a population. Concepts that aren’t easily seen or touched– like energy and carbon emissions– are more difficult to relate.

A runner up and an app with “enormous potential,” as recognized by Luke Nicholson, Managing Director of More Associates, is ‘Here, Now’ engineered by Chris Adams which infers presence by placing an API on user networks and wifi connections and then tracking how many Mac addresses or smartphones are linked to the network .  Adams says that when used with building energy data, inferring presence is useful because users can see how much energy is being consumed per person at a particular site.

In the context of adapting work patterns to climate change mitigation strategies, inferring presence could tell you if your favorite local co-working space is full or near capacity at an optimal energy use range.  Flexible work conditions are a cornerstone of sustainability in the work place.

Adams’ other weekend project won best use of government data.  Dubbed Carbon-Cabaret, users can monitor British government cabinet ministries to see if they are actually sticking to their carbon reduction goals.  Users are presented with a fun visual, a bar chart topped by bulging headed heads of various cabinet offices.

Carboncopies won best in carbon literacy. The app uses comparisons from the book How Bad Are Bananas? the Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee and asks users to match, for example, how much carbon is in a reusable baby nappy with an equivalent, in this case boiling a litre of water four times.

1010, the Britain’s most well known carbon reduction behavioral change campaign bestowed its award to the Climate Change Score board, a website that used 1010’s company and government association membership data to allow users to see who’s signed up for change and who hasn’t.

Another site that deals with carbon transparency is whoslobbying.com.  Set up by Rob McKinnon, it creates a wiki of companies and organizations that have been lobbying various government ministries by listing how many meetings they’ve had.  McKinnon plans to make the site live in early November.

Another notable app raises awareness about Britain’s biggest sources of carbon emissions by giving users a Geiger counter like noise when they are closest to the emitters.  This app uses EU ETS data and works off of Sandbag’s (a British energy think tank) global emitters map which shows which and to what extent carbon emitters (in most cases energy sites) are over leveraged in emissions allowances.

A few apps sought to target individual behavioral change– SocialMeter looks at setting up a social network where your profile is populated with your emissions data.  RationR.com presents users with a blob that can be filled with regular lifestyle choices so that users can understand how to self-budget their carbon emissions.

There was one attendee that isn’t a web developer or even a geek, Hermione Taylor, Director of thedonation.com came to learn about digital behavioral change. Taylor wishes that there was more collaboration between social scientists and developers, in hopes that it would lead to more effective behavioral change.

Data used to form the applications was provided by 10:10, AMEE, and More Associates who are handling building energy use for most of Britain’s government offices.  Existing data sets from the UK ERC (Energy Research Centre) and the EU ETS were also used.

For a full list of apps that came out of the weekend, please see the Rewired State website.


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  • http://www.greendealuk.org Green Deal

    A great example of this in action is the website of the UKs Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). They have a fantastic little app on there clearly showing their energy use second by second, and over time. Nice to see this level of transparency in government.