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No, Not That Kind of Hacking. Supporting Energy Data Innovation at Hackathons

October 12, 2012 - 5:18pm

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Developers at Tech Crunch Disrupt SF 2012.

Developers at Tech Crunch Disrupt SF 2012.

Earlier this year, the administration launched the Energy Data Initiative to improve access to energy data and encourage innovation while rigorously protecting privacy. The resulting datasets and technologies are already being used within companies to create new products and services that help Americans -- and also create new jobs. But these resources are not exclusively valuable to established companies. They are also being used by individual software engineers and student developers at code-a-thons.

A growing occurrence in many cities across the country, code-a-thons (also known as “hackathons”) feature individuals or teams competing to create the best new visualizations, web sites or mobile apps within 24 or 48 hours. The Energy Department’s support of code-a-thons include providing application programming interfaces (APIs) -- software tools that enable direct access to raw data -- and technical support for the recently developed “Green Button” industry standard for electricity consumption data. The Green Button Initiative includes commitments from 35 utilities and retail electric service providers to make Green Button data available to more than 36 million U.S. households and businesses that will be able to access their own energy consumption information in a secure, online consumer- and computer-friendly format.  

Michael Fischer, a graduate student who participated in the Tech Crunch Disrupt San Francisco hackathon, knows first hand that access to energy usage data can result in innovative new products. Michael took raw Green Button data and mashed it up on a product called HANA from the software company SAP to create “The Minty Green Energy Machine.” This technology would allow individuals to set budgets for themselves on energy usage, be notified when budgets are exceeded and encourage actions to save energy and money. His innovation was judged to be the “Top Hack” by the Energy Department and also won SAP’s “HANA Hacker of the Year.

"HANA is a game-changing technology in many aspects," said Anne Hardy, Vice President of Developer Programs at SAP. "HANA allows us to reach out to developers who do not have any prior knowledge or relationships with SAP, and who build applications that you would not expect from an Enterprise Software vendor such as SAP. Hackathons are the perfect way to engage with these developers. We are happy to see Michael use SAP HANA to build real-time analysis on the Green Button data, and we are grateful that the Department of Energy makes such a useful dataset publicly available."

The Energy Department will continue to support innovation at code-a-thons. For example, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) recently co-sponsored the SXSW ECO hackathon in Austin, Texas. In addition to Green Button data, coders and developers will also have access to new APIs and datasets that can fuel new technologies that create a real impact on people’s lives. Anyone looking to see Energy Department code-a-thon resources should check out OpenEI.org’s hackathon resources page and should follow @ProjectOpenData on Twitter.

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