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Jamming Out to Energy Data: Building Apps That Improve Energy Literacy

March 27, 2014 - 9:41am

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Designers hard at work turning energy data into useful apps at a hackathon in Washington earlier this year.

Designers hard at work turning energy data into useful apps at a hackathon in Washington earlier this year.

The United States is facing an energy education challenge. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16% of high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).  Without a strong understanding of the science and social implications of energy, today’s youth will be unprepared to address America’s environmental problems and economic opportunities of tomorrow. 

In a collaborative effort to develop cutting-edge tools, services, and mobile apps that will help expand public knowledge about energy issues, the Energy Department is hosting a data jam in Washington today that brings together dozens of energy experts, app designers, and educators.

These specialists from both the public and private sectors will brainstorm about ways to reach more young people through popular digital platforms and get them thinking about energy’s role in the world and our daily lives.

Topics include:

  • Sharing energy-related open data and tools;
  • Creating effective resources for improving energy literacy;
  • Developing methods to enhance the delivery of educational materials on energy;
  • Helping education-focused organizations to bridge the energy literacy gap.

For more information or about the event, email energyliteracy@ee.doe.gov.  Learn about the origins of data jams, and how collaborations between the public and private sector can produce exciting new applications for open government data below.

Transparency and Collaboration through Open Government

The Open Government Initiative is an effort to increase transparency, participation, and collaboration with the federal government. The initiative, launched in 2009, resulted in a number of websites and strategies to provide the public with raw government data, including research grant information, on Data.gov. For energy gurus, Data.gov/energy and the knowledge sharing online community, OpenEI.org offer downloads of energy-related data such as energy use and consumption in the U.S and other energy related information via geographic discovery, visualizations, apps, and topic oriented gateways.

However, free and open data itself is not enough. In order to tackle our nation’s biggest energy challenges, tools, services, and apps must be developed to organize, analyze, and apply this information effectively.  This is where private-sector innovation enters into the equation.

Data Jams and Datapaloozas

To foster collaboration between industry experts, technology specialists, and the public sector, several federal agencies, including the Energy Department, host data jam workshops. The purpose of these data jams is to find innovative solutions to national challenges with the help of open-government datasets. All data jams follow a common structure:

  • Assemble innovators and entrepreneurs from the government, non-profits, educational institutions and private sector;
  • Introduce open-government datasets and relate them to national challenges;
  • Form small groups to brainstorm products, services, and technological tools that could solve national challenges and be created within 90 days;
  • The large group votes on the most promising products;
  • Individual data jam participants volunteer to create new products within 90 days.

This approach provides a wide range of experts a unique opportunity to find solutions to the nation’s most pressing challenges, including our understanding and consumption of energy.

For example, the Green Button Initiative began as a single question among data jam participants: Why don’t more utility consumers have access to their home energy usage data?

Following a presentation of the plan for the Green Button Initiative at a datapalooza, or data festival, a public-private partnership was established to provide electricity customers with easy access to their energy usage data in a user-friendly format via a green button on electric utilities' websites.  By clicking on the button, utility customers can securely download their data and use the information to better manage their energy consumption. Today, 35 utilities and electricity suppliers nationwide are participating in the initiative, reaching 36 million homes and businesses.

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