Meeting the Challenge

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Update 05.23.12: Yesterday, Wotz was awarded the $15,000 grand prize in the student category by the competition's expert panel of judges. Voting for the popular choice award continues through May 31 at

Physics and astronomy may be UC Irvine professor David Kirkby’s official area of expertise but energy efficiency – and creating ways to improve it – electrifies him. In 2009 the Calit2 academic affiliate launched consumer feedback systemuci@home, designing the project’s electronics and firmware during a sabbatical.

Now, he leads a team of students designing a Web and mobile app to encourage energy efficiency. The four-member team has entered its prototype – dubbed “wotz” – in “Apps for Energy,” a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, on the web platform, which aims to help utility customers make the most of their electricity usage data.

To vote for wotz in the DOE competition, go to

The 55 apps entered in the competition are being ranked by an expert panel of judges on quality of the idea, implementation and design, and potential impact on U.S. residents and businesses. There is also an $8,000 “Popular Choice” award determined by public online voting. 

The contest, which runs through May 31, offers $100,000 in cash prizes. Winners in all categories will be invited to Washington, D.C. to accept recognition and demonstrate their apps, which will also be featured on the DOE Web site.

Wotz, which is designed for use with smart meters, analyzes user data and encourages consumers to make more informed decisions, ultimately reducing energy consumption. The app uses simple comparisons and analogies, games and easy-to-access information, and is designed to be compatible with “Green Button,” a system that details hourly usage information and makes it available for download by utility customers.

The app provides users with three activities: play, explore and challenge. In a motivational twist, the difficulty of the app’s two games is influenced by the consumer’s previous-day energy usage.

“We believe that energy data has the maximum impact on electricity customers when they are able to connect the data with their behavior and build an intuitive understanding of the quantities of energy involved,” says an introductory paragraph in the app’s literature.
Adds Kirkby: “We wanted to try out some new ideas to engage people with their energy use by going beyond the traditional graphs and dashboards, and offering more accessible alternatives to the "kiloWatt-hour.” 

Kirkby’s design team includes Nadia Ahmed, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering and computer science; Daniel Margala, a physics and astronomy doctoral candidate; and Jennifer Tsau, an undergraduate majoring in mechanical and aeronautical engineering.