To left is a live meter, showing the current estimate of my personal energy footprint. This combines all my energy usage (electric, natural gas, oil) encompassing transportation, the embodied energy of my possessions, and my share of the energy used by the governments of the USA and California.
You can make your own energy profile at WattzOn.com. They have incredibly easy-to-use interfaces for quickly estimating your energy profile.
Compared to What?
More importantly, the site provides some very useful context for your profile. I’ve included some screenshots, below. The first is a pie chart showing the relative magnitudes of different parts of my energy usage. I don’t commute by car, so the vast majority of my energy usage comes from the energy expended by government and by airplane flights. For example, the nearly 2000 Watts of energy I expend flying comes from six short flights and four long ones I take each year, on average. You can also see that food and my home heating are also big energy expenditures.
There’s also a screenshot showing how I stack up amongst world citizens (somewhere between Japan and Russia, less than 2/3 the energy consumption of the average American.) After than is a graphic showing how large of a solar panel would be required to power my lifestyle, if it could all be powered by electricity (one enormous panel, 15m square, or somewhere between $50k and $100k worth of solar panels!)
The Big Picture
How much energy should we be using, though? Saul Griffith (MacArther Genius Award winner, head of Makani Power, parter of Squid Labs, and one of the founders of Instructables) is the man behind WattzOn. He created WattzOn in response to a year of thinking he did on climate change. You can see the very well-thought-out, very straightforward presentation of his ideas, below. The bottom line? To stabilize the climate in the next few hundred years and restrict the impact of climate change to moderately-terrible effects (“only” 20% species loss, tens to hundreds of millions displaced, etc.), each of us need to reduce our energy usage to 2,250 Watts. 2,250 Watts! That’s the energy usage of the average Chinese person, a third of what I currently use. When I look at the numbers this way, the future looks pretty grim.
Of course, every bit counts, and being able to visualize my energy usage goes a long way towards changing my behavior. I’m certainly trying to fly less, these days, eat less meat, and ease up on using the heaters in my room. I think WattzOn has a lot of potential to do the same for others. I’m sure they’re working on new features that the public doesn’t know about, but I’ll take that risk of telling them what they already know and make some suggestions.
My biggest one is to allow people to interact with this data socially. It means one thing to be able to visualize one’s energy usage, but the application’s spread and impact will increase dramatically if people can show off their numbers and compare with others. Here are some example social features:
- Data sharing: My roommates should be able to “duplicate” my profile as a starting point for their own.
- Trend data: Am I reducing my energy usage? By how much? I want to see graphs showing my progress.
- Pledges: Public promises to change behavior are strong incentives to follow through. Making a promise to your friends reinforces the action, and spreads the message.
- Competition: Race your friends! Or, make a group pledge so that many people can work together to meet targets.
- Viral Challenge: Make a profile for someone close to you, based on what you know of their lifestyle. Let them take ownership of that profile, correcting assumptions you may have made. Challenge them to reduce their footprint.
There are many other sites experimenting with this idea. See eco:Drive, Positive Energy, and the Climate Pledge Facebook App. The Nike+ workout tracking system has also implemented many competitive social features that would be useful for the WattzOn team to examine.
Good luck, WattzOn! In the meantime, I hope everyone signs on and takes a hard look at their own energy usage.
Note: Jay also mentioned that his company, SolarCity, also has cool information visualizations for its solar panel clients. Here’s a nice example.