Crowdsourcing is the answer to cutting energy bills, says ex-Google startup EnergyDeck

By John Leonard
19 Feb 2014 View Comments
Crowdsourcing is the answer to cutting energy bills says ex-Google startup EnergyDeck

Saving money on heating and lighting should be a quick win for all organisations, but deciding the best way to go about it is not always easy.

While there may be a lot of information out there, often it's the wrong kind of information, according to Benjamin Kott, CEO of EnergyDeck, a London-based startup that uses crowdsourcing techniques to benchmark and monitor energy use in various types of buildings.

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"There are three ways that organisations can get information about energy saving measures," he told Computing at a Code_n startup event in London yesterday.

"First you can look at generic information: if you change to LED lighting this will save you x amount in terms of power used.

"Second is project-specific data, such as case studies provided by manufacturers. And third you can call in an auditor to do a detailed study."

While the latter is easily the best choice in terms of understanding the options, Kott said that audits are expensive and, as a result, few companies take this route.

Meanwhile, case studies are too narrow in scope (and sometimes of dubious provenance), while generic information takes no account of building occupancy, use patterns, local weather and other variables.

Instead, EnergyDeck aims to provide a community-based way for organisations and individuals to become, in effect, their own case studies, providing baseline data and tracking their energy use, sharing the numbers - as well as the results of any energy-saving interventions - with other subscribers via a web-based interface.

Subscribers to EnergyDeck (the vast majority of them free signups) log gas and electricity meter readings along with details about their premises.

The data is anonymised, aggregated, normalised and fed back to the community, allowing members to benchmark their consumption patterns against those of similar users.

Enterprise subscribers are charged according to the number of meters registered.

At present there are over 1,000 free users and 20 paying customers. Kott explained this seeming imbalance by explaining that the "freemium" model is essential to build up the database.

"It's all about scalability, building a critical mass," he said. "It's crowdsourcing, but it's automated crowdsourcing."

Once sufficient data has been collected, EnergyDeck plans to complete the circle by inviting suppliers of energy-saving goods and services to be part of the system, something Kott says will lead to more transparency and a better knowledge base.

"Once we have a critical mass of projects in the database, probably at the end of this year, we can look at suppliers," he said.

"They can link themselves to the projects. They will get validated based on their performance, so they need to be open. Today that's not happening because there's no independent verification of case studies."

In his previous role as green business operations manager at Google Europe, Kott performed energy audits on Google's properties around the globe.

In doing so, he said, he came to realise that there are certain successful energy-saving interventions that are common to all buildings of a particular type (warehouse, office space, apartment or private house) "whether they are in New York or London or Hyderabad or Beijing".

From this realisation came the idea of building up a database to correlate building type and the energy consumption patterns, along with before-and-after data logging the effects of various energy-saving interventions.

In this way companies and householders could benchmark their premises against similar buildings and see which type of intervention gives the best return on investment.

Kott put this idea to Google, which had been experimenting with a consumer power monitoring application called PowerMeter, but was rebuffed.

"It was part of the 'renewable energy cheaper than coal' initiative. Google cut all that when Larry Page became CEO in 2011 - he felt it hadn't gone far enough, " Kott said.

"Not enough people were using smart meters then, and the energy companies were reluctant to share their data. So I decided to do it on my own."

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