WattzOn and more visioning

Late last week I stumbled across another related system called WattzOn. There’s an inspiring 30 video of a presentation by one of the founders, Saul Griffith, discussing the global warming problem and the WattzOn approach. The basic idea is similar to a web-based carbon footprint calculator, but the calculations are all done using power measured in watts, rather than kilograms of CO2. The motivation for using watts over kilograms of carbon is not fully explained, but it does allow for some interesting visualizations, such as the energy required to support your life is N 60 watt lightbulbs running 24×7. The data are input manually using a series of web forms, though vehicle milage data can be imported from Fuelly, and there are future plans to allow importing utility bill data. While WattzOn tracks some areas that many other calculators ignore (government, food, consumer purchases), it’s also less accurate in other ways, such as entering in air travel as number of short, medium, or long flights.

After going through the questionnaire, you get a breakdown that looks something like this:

Pie chart showing the breakdown of my life's power usage

Pie chart showing the breakdown of my life's power usage

WattzOn also provides something called the Embodied Energy Database (EED) which is a crowdsourced wiki where users can estimate the energy required to create, transport, and eventually dispose of a product. Users can add products from the EED to their profile to better track the power required by their purchases. WattzOn has an API, but currently the data is read-only.

Overall, WattzOn provides some interesting ideas. Working from climate change consequences to GHG emissions to user goals for power consumption is a compelling motivator. Using power rather than CO2 as the measure for comparison is a unique choice, but the benefits over using mass of carbon emitted is not fully justified (other than the founder runs a renewable energy company). There is no support for physical sensor data input, but site has only been launched for a few months so that might be coming in the future. The EED provides a way to account for the impact of the stuff that we buy, but I’m concerned that the crowdsourced data is unlikely to be very accurate. Overall, it seems as the assessment is intended to be a snapshot of the user’s consumption, rather than a continuous monitoring of the user’s power. While users can edit the data that they input to update their power value, like any manual data entry solution, it seems unlikely that users will do that with any frequency.

The rest of the week was spent working on the vision chapter of my proposal.

Planned items from last week:

  • Finish assessment of related work in vision chapter
    • done, though now I need to add WattzOn 🙂
  • Make list of secret sauce ideas, and how they fit into existing research
    • done
  • Start detailed scenario for vision document
    • not done, still just has the Kimo example from the grant proposal
  • Incorporate Yuka’s edits into literature review
    • not done, Yuka is still working on the edits

Other accomplishments this week:

  • Discovered WattzOn personal lifestyle power tracking

Hours worked: 25 (target: 30 hr)

Plans for coming week:

  • Work on detailed scenario for vision document
  • Incorporate Yuka’s edits into literature review

Pointers to work products:

Cool links:


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