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Crowdsourcing Energy Data Innovation

Christopher Irwin's picture
Director of Products Eka Systems
  • Member since 2006
  • 2 items added with 378 views
  • Apr 8, 2015
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A LITTLE OVER a year ago, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced the launch of the American Energy Data Challenge. The challenge would consist of a series of four contests that combine open data and energy innovation and draw on the creativity of the American public in multiple ways. Our goals were simple: to increase the value of the vast public data sets held in trust by the U.S. Department of Energy and to put new tools into the hands of individuals, homes and businesses fueled by public and private energy data.

The American Energy Data Challenge is not just the result of creatively pursuing the mission of the DOE, it is the result of public policy and responsive to trends in society and industry. In 2009, the White House established a policy on transparency and open government and released its Strategy for American Innovation, encouraging greater openness in the operation and work products of the federal government, and our continuing commitment to entrepreneurship, fundamental research and an advanced information technology ecosystem.

In 2010, federal agencies were provided with guidance on the use of prizes, contests and grand challenges, opening the door for public engagement beyond the traditional grant-type financial mechanisms. In 2011, the White House and several private sector partners helped launch the Green Button Initiative, extending an open data initiative born in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care sector into the energy sector.

In 2013, the president's Open Data Policy declared information a valuable national resource and strategic asset, and established open, machine-readable data as the default for government and government-funded data. Also in the closing months of 2013, with the energy industry surpassing 40 million customers with access to their energy data in the Green Button format, the president directed the U.S. General Services Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the DOE to shape their policies and information systems to accept and use Green Button data, keeping pace with industry adoption. The closer you look at the American Energy Data Challenge, the more you will see these policy themes emerge. Our job was to make sure that policy basis didn't get in the way of a fun, challenging and mutually rewarding experience.

Three of the four contests are now complete. The first contest was the Energy Ideas contest, which invited contestants to essentially take a safari through some of the open data available from dozens of offices throughout the DOE. Competitors could suggest a new use for the data, dream up an application - no programming necessary - or let DOE know what data they wished were available, but hadn't been created yet.

The second contest was the Apps for Energy II contest, reprising our first Apps for Energy contest from 2012, but bigger and bolder. With private sector partners across the country, DOE held five regional hackathons for programmers from Boston to San Diego to support and inspire competitors, and even garnered formal recognition from the mayor of Los Angeles for innovation and consumer empowerment. In the third contest, Open Data by Design, DOE turned to the design community, asking for fresh ideas about how to make use of graphic design and information design to amplify the power of open data and personal energy data.

The playground of data the contestants had to work with was enormous, with energy data about geothermal resources, electricity generation, natural gas markets, building performance databases, and personal energy data in the form of Green Button data. The winners of Open Data by Design made this data more relevant, easier to understand, and in one case crunched decades of data into a single dynamic visualization. Two winners began with the consumer in mind. EnergyBill.com, winner of the Best Information Design award, blended customer-sourced Green Button data with other data sources and beautiful design in a mobile interface.

Ohmconnect, winner of Best Visualization, merged Green Button data with time-synched generation data to show customers when clean energy was online. Ohmconnect also built a simple but compelling energy disaggregation graphic to map primary energy uses in the home.

The uniquely named Quesadilla won the Best Infographic award for its crunching of fuel source to fuel use data. Quesadilla took an already compelling DOE graphic and animated decades of data with a simple slider, allowing anyone to see the changes in sources and consumption over time, covering thousands of data points in a single dynamic picture.

As of this writing, DOE has not launched the final contest, but from experience, one thing is certain: Entrepreneurs and others will respond with creative and surprising submissions, and open data will be at the heart of the value they propose to create.

Christopher G. Irwin is with the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

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