By Anna Lynn Spitzer
Irvine, CA, October 17th, 2012 - - Last May, an energy-saving Web/mobile app developed by a Calit2-affiliated team of UC Irvine students won the $15,000 grand prize in the student category of a national competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.
This month, the app – dubbed Wotz – made its debut at the White House during the inaugural government-sponsored Energy Datapalooza.
Representing the four-member UCI team, which was guided by professor David Kirkby, were students Jennifer Tsau and Daniel Margala. They joined 150 entrepreneurs, software developers, energy experts and policy makers at the Washington, D.C. event, which celebrated innovations created to advance a clean energy future.
All of the products, services and apps on display at Energy Datapalooza were built using open source data. Many of them, like Wotz, were winners in the “Apps for Energy” challenge, intended to help utility customers make the most of their electricity usage data. The winning entries were recognized at the event by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.
“It was a great experience,” Tsau said. “Not only were we able to share the team's app with people interested in the field, but we were also able to see the amazing startup companies out there trying to give the general public a better understanding of how to be more energy efficient. I'm thankful to Professor Kirkby for the opportunity to participate in the competition.”
Wotz, which was 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. In a motivational twist, the difficulty of the app’s two games is influenced by the consumer’s energy usage from the previous day.
“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 said.
In addition to Tsau, an undergraduate majoring in mechanical and aeronautical engineering, and Margala, a physics and astronomy doctoral candidate, Kirkby’s design team includes Nadia Ahmed, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering and computer science.
According to a White House blog, the Energy Datapalooza was organized to “demonstrate how private-sector entrepreneurs are creating jobs and helping Americans save money, using open data as their fuel.”
The event was part of the Obama administration’s Energy Data Initiative, which seeks to spur new products and services by freeing up data that can help Americans save money, protect the environment, and ensure a safe and reliable energy future.