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Crowdsourcing energy efficiency at UC Davis

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Crowdsourcing energy efficiency at UC Davis

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There are numerous reasons to want to make our energy usage more efficient.  You may be motivated by environmental concerns for instance, or want to save money, or even to make your home or office more comfortable for its inhabitants.

There have been a number of attempts over the past year or two to apply social approaches to achieving this.  For instance, OPower take a gamification approach by comparing what your energy usage is like with that of your neighbours.

Likewise, a project run in the North-East of England used a collaborative approach to energy saving, by trying to locate the positive deviants in a community who were living a low energy lifestyle, and using them to help spread the knowledge throughout the community.

CrowdComfort take a more crowd based approach (as you’d expect from such a name) to regulating temperature in an office or other communal building.  The rationale behind the site is that different people feel the cold in different ways, and that applying the wisdom of crowds can help to better manage temperatures in offices.

It’s a very similar approach to one taken by a recent project at UC Davis in California that has been developed by researchers at the university in conjunction with the facilities management team there.

The project offers real-time, crowdsourced feedback about energy and temperature on campus.  Users visit the website and are presented with a campus map with energy use intensity for each building.

“Our initial goal is the feedback system itself, to let us know how buildings are doing,” the developers explain. “We can’t be on site monitoring the 10 million square feet of campus at all times; we don’t have enough bodies. But all the buildings are occupied by thousands of students, staff and faculty; now they can supply us with the desired information.”

The eventual aim is to use the data gathered from users to provide smarter energy use on campus, which could go live next year.

“Temperature is a much bigger deal than people think,” they say. “UC Davis spends $30 million per year on energy, and by far the biggest piece of that — roughly 50 to 60 percent — is heating and cooling.”

It isn’t as thorough as CrowdComfort (yet) in that it isn’t tied into the energy system on campus, but that will hopefully be the next step.

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