MaRS Energy Hackathon spawns apps to help people manage energy consumption

MaRS Energy Hackathon spawns apps to help people manage energy consumption

The weekend of September 7 and 8 saw a congregation of 115 developers, coders, designers, energy experts, utility representatives, behavioural economists and MaRS volunteers descend on MaRS to participate in the first-ever MaRS Energy Hackathon.

While hackathons are becoming a regular feature at MaRS, this particular hackathon distinguished itself as part of a much larger effort to enable access to standardized electricity consumption data in Ontario. This effort began in September 2012 when MaRS produced a report titled “The Market Impact of Accessible Energy Data” to engage electricity stakeholders on the value of making electricity data accessible. In November 2012, MaRS followed up its report with a partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Energy to lead a cross-industry working group with Ontario energy regulators, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and seven utilities to promote the adoption of the Green Button standard in Ontario.

Ten months and 2.6 million (and counting) Green Button-enabled homes and small businesses later, the MaRS Energy Hackathon is just one of many events and activities that MaRS plans to conduct to encourage the developer and innovation ecosystem to access electricity data that will now be available for consumers to access and share in an electronic, standardized and secure format.

MaRS Energy Hackathon 2013

The MaRS Energy Hackathon attracted a very focused group of participants who were driven to use this new data stream to solve very specific problems. The hackathon’s challenge was to develop solutions that would help consumers engage with their electricity consumption data. Objectives included:

  • increasing education around electricity consumption;
  • encouraging bill savings and the reduction of environmental impact through conservation and load shifting; and
  • encouraging awareness and engagement with electricity consumption across varied demographic and electrically aware customer segments.

The 36-hour event resulted in 11 excellent solutions that demonstrated a diversity of consumer engagement approaches ranging from the use of simple text message–based notification systems for customer electricity consumption alerts to the use of physical green flamingos as visual cues to leverage peer pressure or social persuasion measures (similar to Ontario’s successful blue-box recycling program).

Over 33% of the people involved in the MaRS Energy Hackathon were women, which showcases the increasing diversity in participation at the hackathons held at MaRS.

The focus of this hackathon and other supporting events and activities in the coming months will be to provide ongoing support and feedback to developers who are building Green Button data-enabled applications. This will offer developers the opportunity to leverage the first-mover’s advantage in this nascent but growing energy data marketplace, while also offering Ontario consumers more choice in how they interact with the electricity data enabled by the Green Button standard.

Read on for information on the MaRS Energy Hackathon’s winning applications.

Winner of the Best App Award: Electric Company with their project Barkly

Prize: $1,500 – Chagpar & Associates-backed Prepr Innovation Grant

  • Team members: Mariusz Dabrowski, Poyan Pourshian and Yuxing “Felix” Huang
  • Project description: Barkly is an app that allows consumers to manage energy consumption with a focus on getting parents and children to work together based on positive reinforcement. A tree interface translates kilowatts into real examples and gives energy-saving tips based on consumption (the latest day compared to the previous five days).
Barkly, one of the apps designed at the MaRS Energy Hackathon
The user-friendly interface of Barkly, winner of the Best App Award at the MaRS Energy Hackathon

First runner-up for the Best App Award: Qriket with their project Wattage

Prize: $1,000

  • Team members: Jonny Comparelli, Mark Muralla, Piotr Sobkowski, Yunbo Lee and Ivan Rivero Alonso
  • Project description: Wattage recommends the best times to use electricity, focusing on conservation and engaging the consumer through the concept of peak hours.

Second runner-up for the Best App Award: Space Bears with their project Spring Gauge

Prize: $500

  • Team members: Elgin Chau, Kevin Yuen and Kent English
  • Project description: Spring Gauge focuses on the consumer by leveraging SMS to deliver energy consumption data. After signing into the Spring Gauge website, users can get Green Button data sent to them by text.
Spring Gauge at MaRS Energy Hackathon
Spring Gauge was the second runner-up for the Best App Award with its SMS-based energy alerts

Winner of the Pivot Design Group Award for Best UX/Design: Energy Tipper with their project of the same name

Prize: Pivot Design Group Award (approximate value: $5,000; prize also includes consultancy services with Pivot’s Creative Director, Ian Chalmers, as well as 10 hours of free space at Pivot offices)

  • Team members: Bianca Sayan, Erich Welz and Lucy Lin
  • Project description: Energy Tipper lets consumers know the best time to use certain appliances. Data is based on the typical consumer.

Winner of the MaRS Future Impact Award: Power Inform

Prize: Consultancy with MaRS Data Catalyst

  • Team members: Geordie Bilkey, Andrée Monette, Sheldon Chi and Tikhon Botchkarev
  • Project description: An open source client library in Python that will allow developers to create apps at the consumer level and an app that will allow utilities to test frameworks in the roll-out phase. The app can also apply to gas and water utilities.

Honourable Mentions: Emmit and Green Flamingo

Prize: Tuts+ Premium memberships and free Squarespace accounts (approximate value: $500)

  • Emmit team members: Farzad Kohantorabi, Peter Campeau, Sumit Sikder, Ashwin Sureshkumar, Lori Lee, Tehsin Bhayani, Thomas Wood and Veronica Wong
  • Project description: Emmit looks at the behaviours and motivations of consumers. It will involve an efficiency score on a smartphone app and trigger mechanisms to acquire new users and retain existing users.
  • Green Flamingo team members: Kristopher Kivutha, Sina Shahandeh, Dan Desmarais and Geoff Foulds
  • Project description: An app that forecasts weather events to customers and rewards positive engagement with the application, i.e. taking steps to conserve energy will result in the customer getting a physical flamingo to display at their premises as a visual cue for positive energy management practices by the household or business.
The Green Flamingo team at MaRS Energy Hackathon
From left to right: The Green Flamingo team, Kristopher Kivuthaa, Sina Shahandeh, Dan Desmarais and Geoff Foulds, show off the Green Flamingo customers would get for positive energy management practices