How can we use energy more efficiently? That’s the central question behind the Department of Energy’s American Energy Data Challenge launched this week. Using energy more efficiently means (hopefully) needing less energy. When home and business owners can reduce their energy use, they may be encouraged to consider alternatives to grid energy like rooftop solar power, since a reduced energy load means a smaller (and less expensive) solar array can meet the needs of an energy efficient building.
Energy efficiency doesn’t have to be difficult. A recent study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California-Berkeley looked at the miscellaneous and electronic loads (MELs) in houses and buildings. These include things like toasters, printers, fans and clocks, all of which consume about a third of the energy used in some buildings. An action as simple as unplugging a device when it's not in use or turning a computer to low energy mode can lead to significant energy savings.
The new challenge is designed to find new ways to look at energy data that the DOE is collecting on a voluntary basis and making publicly available. Last year the Obama Administration launched the Green Button Initiative. Under this initiative, utilities across the country were able to send information to 36 million homes and businesses about their energy usage in the Green Button format. They were also able to contribute information to the Department of Energy’s databases. Now the DOE is looking to the public and business sectors to make that information more usable.
“We need your help to make available data easier to access, simpler to use and more applicable for consumers,” explains DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz in a video announcing the challenge. “The tools you build can empower American consumers to use energy more efficiently. Letting families and business make informed decisions about the energy they use and purchase in daily life.”
The challenge will offer cash rewards for the best potential ideas for usage of information. The first round, The Energy Ideas Contest, will offer a total of $10,000 in prizes. A total of $4,000 will be offered for the best idea for an existing dataset. The same amount will be offered for the best "killer ideas" for an energy-focused applications or services. The best ideas for a wish list dataset will be eligible for a total of $2,000. While the money is less than the millions in Rooftop Solar Challenge awards the DOE announced earlier this week, better use of energy can save hundreds of millions of dollars across the U.S.
This is the first of a number of challenges for the program, according to Moniz. “Through challenges over the next 12 months, participants will use the Department of Energy’s publicly available data set to create new tools for consumers,” he says. “We want to solicit your best idea on how energy generation distribution and consumption could be transformed to better serve a modern economy.”
The first challenge was launched on Nov. 6. Individuals may participate through the DOE's site (http://energychallenge.energy.gov) through Nov. 29, 2013. The Department plans to launch three additional challenges—Apps for Energy II, Energy Data by Design and the American Energy Challenge—in the coming months.