Transparency in energy usage

Solar panelsI’m pretty passionate about renewable energy. After I read Thomas L. Friedman’s “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” I was sold on higher prices for gas and putting solar panels on every roof in America. In fact, I was so eager to contribute, I had 18 solar panels installed on the roof of my home.

When I was checking out the energy infographic, “Interactive Transparency: America’s Energy, Where It’s From and How It’s Used” over at GOOD, I was re-energized on the topic of renewable and sustainable energy.

I couldn’t agree more with GOOD’s opening statement: “To fully understand the energy issue, we have to understand how America gets its energy, and how it uses it.” They go on to say that America wastes a lot of energy, 54.5 Q BTU (Quadrillion British Thermal Units) to be exact.

It’s hard to solve a problem when you don’t know what you’re trying to solve. For the energy situation here in America, the talk has been about reducing our dependency of foreign oil, increasing our renewable energy sources, and increasing efficiency of our systems. The infographic clearly shows that there is room for efficiency, with the highest waste in transportation.

Solving these problems all starts with transparency, collaboration, and open data. Looking at the sources from the GOOD post, the data is open and available as public domain from US Energy Information Administration (Department of Energy).

So the data is open, but it takes more than that. The collaboration between GOOD and Hyperakt is important because it makes this transparency useful. Their work makes the information visible and consumable. Most people are not going to look at the raw data from the Department of Energy.

Which brings us back to solving the problem. Open data? Check. Transparent sharing of information? Check. Collaboration to make that information useful? Check. It takes all three to show where we, as a  society, have to focus and move forward with action. When we work together to understand the truth, the answers are right in front of us.

Originally posted on on January 6, 2011.

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About Shibby

Jason Hibbets is a senior community architect at Red Hat which means he is a mash-up of a community manager and project manager. At night, he wears his cape and is a captain for the Open Raleigh brigade, as well as a co-chair for NC Open Pass. Jason is the author of a book titled The foundation for an open source city--a resource for cities and citizens interested in improving their government through civic hacking. While writing the book, he discovered his unknown superpower of building communities of passionate people. Jason graduated from North Carolina State University and resides in Raleigh, NC with his wife, two kids, two border collies, chickens, lots of tomato plants, and a lazy raccoon somewhere in an oak tree. In his copious spare time, he enjoys surfing, running, gardening, traveling, watching football, sampling craft beer, and participating in local government--not necessarily in that order, but close to it. You can follow him on Twitter: @jhibbets

3 thoughts on “Transparency in energy usage

  1. Frank Ch. Eigler

    Shibby, could you expand upon the application of “sustainability” to residential PV? To what extent is your own project sustainable in the economic sense (unsubsidized, profitable)?

  2. Shibby Post author

    Hi Frank,

    I’m actually going to work on a more detailed post here in July to commence the 1-year anniversary of having my PV system. The short answer is that when we sized the system, it was estimated that the power produced would cover about 90% of our families historical energy usage.

    The way my system is set-up, I sell all my power to the grid. I purchase power like everyone else around me at $0.11 kWh and sell my power at $0.26 kWh. This still encourages us to conserve power and reduce our energy usage.

    It’s estimated that between years 8-9, I will have recovered the cost on the investment of the system. Many more details to come in a few weeks.


  3. Frank Ch. Eigler

    Jason, thanks for your response. I raised the point only to point out that if PV has to rely on subsidies (the $0.25/kWh spread), then it is not really sustainable (over time and/or space as it scales beyond the initial adopter-beneficiaries). How long a time horizon do you consider acceptable, beyond which subsidies should not be necessary, for the project to succeed in this sense?


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