Category Archives: global warming

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 ūüôā
  • 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:

Climate Teach-In @ UH Wed 1/30/2008

There is a US-sponsored international meeting on climate change on the UH campus across the street from my office, which is pretty amazing. I don’t hold much hope that the Bush administration will wise up though, but at least they will be out of office soon. Life of the Land has more information on both the official meeting agenda and community events.

For the public there is teach in scheduled for Wednesday night from 7-9:30 PM at the UH law school. I’m planning to check it out after the first half of the Honolulu Coders meeting that night.

Consumers Guide to Effective Environmental Choices

I have been reading The Consumers Guide to Effective Environmental Choices (available from the Hawaii State Library system) from the Union of Concerned Scientists. It discusses what choices we as consumers can make to reduce our impact on the environment. I like that it comes from actual scientists, and that they lay out the facts and figures behind all their conclusions. Too many environmental guides just make pronouncements (“don’t use plastic bags at the supermarket!”) without backing them up.In fact the guide emphasizes the fact that there are lots of decisions that people stress about (paper or plastic?) that are either quite inconsequential in the scheme of things or are actually hard to tell if they are bad or good.Unfortunately the guide was published in 1999, so it is probably somewhat outdated by now. I also wonder how some of the conclusions would be localized for Hawaii. But it’s still good stuff.Here are their main conclusions:Biggest Consumption-Related Environmental Problems:

  • Air pollution
  • Global warming
  • Habitat alteration
  • Water pollution

Consumer activities that do the most harm:

  1. Cars and light trucks
  2. Meat and Poultry
  3. Fruit, vegetables, and grains
  4. Home heating, hot water, and air conditioning
  5. Household appliances and lighting
  6. Home construction
  7. Household water and sewage

Priority Actions for consumers:Transportation 

  1. Choose a place to live that reduces the need to drive.
  2. Think twice before purchasing another car.
  3. Choose a fuel-efficient, low-polluting car.
  4. Set concrete goals for reducing your travel.
  5. Whenever practical, walk, bicycle, or take public transportation.


  1. Eat less red meat.
  2. Buy certified organic produce.

Household operations

  1. Choose your home carefully.
  2. Reduce the environmental costs of heating and hot water.
  3. Install efficient lighting and appliances.
  4. Choose an electricity supplier offering renewable energy.

High-impact activities that should be particularly avoided:

  1. Powerboats
  2. Pesticides and fertilizers
  3. Gasoline-powered yard equipment
  4. Fireplaces and wood stoves
  5. Recreational off-road driving
  6. Hazardous cleaners and paints
  7. Products made from endangered or threatened species

Seven rules for responsible consumption:

  1. Give special attention to major purchases.
  2. Become a “weight watcher” (heavy things have more impact).
  3. Analyze your consumption quantitatively.
  4. Don’t worry or feel guilty about unimportant decisions.
  5. Look for opportunities to be a leader.
  6. Buy more of those things that help the environment.
  7. Think about nonenvironmental reasons for reducing consumption.

HECO IRP session on Global Warming

Last Friday I attended¬†HECO’s¬†Integrated Resource Planning¬†Advisory Group¬†Technical Session on Global Warming. There were a¬†variety of presenters¬†talking about economic, environmental, and social aspects of global warming.One striking presentation was by¬†Chip Fletcher¬†that discussed the impact of global warming on Hawaii’s coastline. He said that planning for a 1 meter rise in sea level by the end of the century is a conservative estimate (this is a combination of sea level rise and the effects of heavy rains). He had some compelling slides showing what would be underwater with a 1m rise, including parts of the Campbell industrial area, downtown Honolulu, and Waikiki. Unfortunately, the presentation isn’t available on HECO’s site yet, but this¬†Honolulu Advertiser story¬†has one image at the end. He also says that Hawaii’s beaches will be gone for the most part by the end of the century, which is sobering.A couple of other tidbits: a¬†presentation¬†by¬†DBEDT’s energy group¬†estimates that Hawaii’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 7.5% from 1990 to 2005. The at which people recycle beverage containers is closely related to how big the deposit is on them. That’s not too surprising, but apparently Germany has a deposit of $0.25 ‚ā¨ (US $0.33 today) and their recycling rate is close to 100%!