Category Archives: sustainability

Thoughts on HICSS 44 (2011)

I just got back from the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, aka HICSS. This conference has been running for 44 years. General information about this year’s HICSS can be found here, and the proceedings will eventually be here.

This was my first HICSS, which is kinda strange seeing how long I have been in Hawai`i. It was held this year at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, which is pretty luxurious. I guess the idea is to hold it at resort that will be a draw for participants, and provide enough amenities that attendees don’t feel the need to wander off.

The first thing that struck me about HICSS is the incredible diversity of sessions going on. The conference is organized in as a bunch of tracks (high-level topics), which are then broken into about 60 minitracks. The minitracks can last a whole day (4 sessions) or be as short as a single session.

The result is a huge smorgasbord of papers. Each day, there are 15 parallel tracks, ranging all over the place: education, social networks, cyber security, location-based marketing, power systems, and many more. This can be good if you want to check out a diverse set of presentations, but to me it makes HICSS feel more like a conference of mini-conferences than a unified whole. This is quite different from a conference like Ubicomp, which is vociferously single-track so that every attendee can attend every session if they want to. Naturally, Ubicomp accepts far fewer papers than HICSS.

The minitrack I was attending (Information Systems and Decision Technologies for Sustainable Development) didn’t start until the second day, so on the first day I just went to sessions that looked interesting. Just deciding which sessions to attend is quite a task: 15 rooms * 4 sessions a day = 60 paper titles to look at!

I started with the Future Electric Power Systems (smart grid, more or less) minitrack. This minitrack was located in a standalone building at the Hyatt that is used as a nightclub. So the attendee chairs were set up in a sunken dance floor, and the presentation slides were shown on one large TV embedded in the wall, as well as 16 smaller TVs distributed around the ceiling (like one might find in a sports bar). This was kinda bizarre, but amusing.

The power systems minitrack has been running for 15 years, so the attendees seemed quite familiar with each other, and had their conference process down pat. The papers I saw were interesting, though more traditionally smart-grid-oriented compared to our Kukui Cup work. Unfortunately, the proceedings (which will be freely available) are not yet online, so I cannot link directly to papers.

  • A case study on the expected impact of PHEV vehicles on electricity consumption, using a new community in South Korea (A Case Study on the Grid Impact of PHEVs to Sample Distribution Power System by Dong Joo Kang and Sunju Park)
  • An algorithm for detecting “load pockets”, which are areas on the grid that are constrained by transmission such that generation facilities could raise their prices and electricity users would have no option but to pay the higher prices (Clustering of Power System Data and its use in Load Pocket Identification by Katherine Rogers and Thomas Overbye).
  • An analysis of locational marginal carbon intensity of generation (how much additional carbon will be emitted by increasing demand by 1 kWh in a particular location at a particular time) on the eastern part of the US. The results are somewhat surprising, in that areas that are heavy coal users might actually have lower marginal carbon intensity because if they had additional demand they would import power from generation facilities with lower carbon intensity. The presenter related the marginal intensity to Renewable Portfolio Standards, which provide subsidies for production of renewable energy. Currently subsidies are independent of carbon intensity, but the authors argue that they should be higher (pay more for renewable energy) in places where the marginal carbon intensity is high, and lower where marginal intensity is low. This would encourage the buildout of renewable generation in places where it would reduce carbon emissions the most (Locational Carbon Footprint and Renewable Portfolio Policies: A Theory and its Implications for the Eastern Interconnection of the US by Aleksandr Rudkevich, Pablo A. Ruiz and Rebecca C. Carroll).
  • An investigation into what is really happening in loads, starting with hot water heaters. The presenter argued that there has been a lot of research into the dynamics of generation, but very little in the dynamics of loads, which will be critical for any type of demand response program. In the ensuing discussion, I learned a new term: demand subscription. This is the idea that rather than being metered for use, customers subscribe to a certain amount of electricity (not sure if it is measured as power, energy, or both) and then it is up to the customer to figure out how to live within that subscription. So the utility would only communicate with a smart meter, not reaching beyond the meter to smart appliances.

I also had time to attend some talks in the social networking track by members of LILT (my former research group): Dan Suthers, Kar-Hai Chu, and Devan Rosen. I was familiar with some of the outlines of the Traces work, but it was good to see it discussed in a public forum.

The minitrack I presented in was called Information Systems for Sustainable Development. I presented our paper describing the design of the Kukui Cup. It seemed well received, with most of the questions revolving around how to get students involved and how to keep them aware after the competition in order to sustain behavior changes. Eric Paulos suggested we should provide Kill-A-Watt meters to some residents in May 2012 before they move out of the first-year dorms, and then follow up with them on whether and how they used them in their next living situation.

Two other presentations in our track that I found interesting:

  • Hendrik Hilpert, a PhD student from Göttingen University presented work on computing products’ carbon footprints automatically using vehicle mass airflow data (obtained via OBD2) fused with GPS data. This combination allows one to compute how much carbon is being emitted, while the GPS data allows the carbon to be allocated to different products that might be on the same delivery vehicle as it makes a series of stops. They even cited my older literature review in their paper, würd! (Real-Time Data Collection for Product Carbon Footprints in Transportation Processes Based on OBD2 and Smartphones, by Hendrik Hilpert, Lars Thoroe and Matthias Schumann).
  • Eric Paulos, assistant professor at CMU presented work on Citizen Energy. Citizen Energy is the idea of changing people from just being energy consumers into more active participants in the generation and use of energy. They have made a bunch of cool devices, like a Seasonal Energy Lamp. The lamp is connected both to grid power and to solar and wind turbines, and it changes the color of the emitted light depending on the source (orange for solar, blue for wind, etc), making people more aware of where their energy is coming from. These design experiments seem really complementary to the Kukui Cup, possibly providing additional ways for participants to become more energy literate. (Citizen Energy: Towards Populist Interactive Micro-Energy Production by Eric Paulos and James Pierce).

Unfortunately, our minitrack had fairly low attendance (perhaps 8 attendees at peak, of whom half were presenting in the minitrack), so I don’t know how it will fare next year. All in all, it was a worthwhile experience, but was a bit of a comedown after BECC 2010.


Rebuild Hawaii Consortium March 2010 meeting

I attended the Rebuild Hawaii Consortium quarterly meeting last week. I had never attended any of their meetings before, and I was somewhat surprised at the sizable number of people in attendance (40? 50?). It was held in a large stadium-style conference room at the Hawaii Convention Center. I had checked the agenda in advance, and thought I could arrive at 10 AM and still see everything I wanted to, but apparently the agenda changed since it was posted on the website.

The talk I missed that I wish I had seen was by Luis Vega on the Hawaii National Marine Renewable Energy Center. His slides look very interesting, lots of hard-nosed cost comparisons of wave and OTEC electricity generation.

Paul Norton have a talk on Zero Energy Buildings, which was interesting. I attended his REIS seminar where he covered some of the same things, but this was focused on ZEB. Some points I found particularly interesting:

  • The introduction of air conditioning leads to a 70% increase in electricity use
  • The key conceptual shift is thinking about the monthly cost of a home being the mortgage + utility bill.
  • The efficiency / photovoltaic balance point is the point at which adding generation via PV is the same cost as additional efficiency measures
  • A cost neutral design (monthly cost is same as a home built to code) that uses efficiency and PV results in an 85% reduction in home electricity usage
  • Once major efficiency measures are in place (solar water heating, efficient lighting & air conditioning, insulation), the major remaining load is appliance plug loads
  • In one military housing complex on Oahu, there is a 4x difference in electricity usage between houses with identical efficiency measures. Presumably the differences are due to appliance purchases and behavior.
  • In a group of homes in Las Vegas, the difference was 5x
  • Further, the differences were fairly continuous: there is no nice average plateau
  • PV inverters on the neighbor islands have been causing problems because the utility frequency can sag during periods of high usage. By default, the inverters are set to disconnect from the grid when the frequency drops below 59.3 Hz, so inverters all over turn off, which puts additional strain on the utility, exacerbating the problem. Reducing that threshold frequency to 57 Hz can help. Thus there is a lot of research still to be done on renewable integration.

Another presentation was on HCEI and smart grid initiatives at PACOM. They are working on a project called SPIDERS that is trying to address the fact that access to electricity is a critical need for the military. One thing I was stunned to learn was that people living in military housing don’t pay for electricity! Thus they have no financial incentive at all to reduce their energy usage. Slide 8 shows an actual graph of HECO’s demand and generation for one particular day. Our work on OSCAR was all based on vague outlines of what the demand curve looks like, so it was great to see it “in the flesh”.

There was a lot of good information at the meeting, so I’m planning to attend in the future. Next meeting is June 2.

Future publication venues

Update March 5, 2010: now maintained as a wiki page rather than a blog post

Updated Feb 2, 2010: added IEEE upcoming journals and IEEE Sensors conference.

So I’ve been thinking lately about where I might publish my research on WattDepot, and later on the UH dorm energy challenge. Here’s what I have come up with so far.


  • IEEE Smart Grid Conference. The deadline for papers is May 1, with the conference happening Oct 4-6 in Maryland. Philip has suggested this might be a good place for a paper on WattDepot, and I agree. The maximum page length is 6 pages.
  • Behavior, Energy, Climate Change 2010. Philip attended BECC 2009 and it seems like an ideal conference for the dorm energy competition results. The call for abstracts (presentations & posters) goes out in March, with a mid-May deadline to submit abstracts. The conference is November 14-17 in Sacramento. There is no paper required for the presentation, just slides, so we could potentially present some actual results in the presentation (which wouldn’t be available in May when the abstract is submitted).
  • Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences 44. This is happening on Kauai January 4-7 2011. The deadline for papers is June 15. The Jennifer Mankoff’s group has had a series of papers about StepGreen and related work at HICSS so this seems like a good venue, and the travel will be much easier. 🙂
  • CHI 2011. Apparently this is happening May 7-12 in Vancouver (BC I assume?). There have been a variety of papers on supporting green/sustainable behavior in CHI before, and the CHI community is a large and vibrant one.
  • Ubicomp 2010. There was plenty of sustainability work at Ubicomp 2008 (including a workshop I attended), so this is a possible venue. However, the submission deadlines are rather soon (March for papers) so it’s probably more realistic for 2011.
  • Pervasive 2011. This is similar to Ubicomp, but happens in May in Europe. Submission deadline is mid-October.
  • IEEE Sensors 2010. May 4 is the abstract submission deadline, with the conferencing happening November 1-4 at the Hilton Waikaloa. Maximum paper length is 4 pages. This is perhaps less relevant than the IEEE Smart Grid conference, but still worthy of consideration.


  • International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. This is where the Oberlin dorm energy contest paper was published, so it seems an obvious choice. Not the broadest appeal though.
  • Environment & Behavior.
  • IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid. Journal to be launched soon.
  • IEEE Transactions on Sustainable Energy. Another journal to be launched soon. The smart grid one looks more relevant, this looks to be focused on energy generation from renewables.

I’m sure more will come up as I read more, but this is a good starter list.

Community-Based Social Marketing

I just finished reading this quick-reference guide to Community-Based Social Marketing by Doug McKenzie-Mohr. This is a condensed version of the concepts from the online book, which appears to be an updated version of the book Fostering Sustainable Behavior from 1999.

With an eye towards the dorm energy competition we are planning at UH, I found the concepts very useful and it seems like our initial requirements for the website are headed in the right direction. For example, we plan to have participants make public commitments online through the site, in particular commitments that should be visible to other residents on the participant’s floor. We also plan to make the commitments very public via large-screen displays in the lobbies of the dorm(s). This is in keeping with McKenzie-Mohr’s recommendations on the use of commitments.

One member of the design team (Shanah) suggested that we have a weekly individual winner for each floor, so that each floor would have someone to look for assistance and encouragement. This is a great example of using the concept of “norms” to encourage people to alter their behavior.

The current design calls for extensive incentives in the form of coupons, pizza parties, and maybe iPods. McKenzie-Mohr cautions that removing incentives (which will happen at the end of the competition) can actually reduce internal motivation that existed before the provision of incentives. It will be interesting to see what happens to electricity usage after the competition is over.

The other lesson we need to take heed of us the use of focus groups and possibly surveys while we are designing the competition. We need to know what our target audience thinks about the competition, and the design of the website.

The Community-Based Social Marketing website has more information and lots of links to articles and case studies.

Build file extravaganza

Didn’t get to spend as much time working last week as I had hoped. Most of my time ended up being spent getting fully up to speed on the Ivy-based build files for the hackystat-developer-example project. The good news is that we got all (most?) of the bugs worked out, so WattDepot is now using the improved build files. The changes needed to customize to WattDepot are also very localized (mostly in build.xml), so I should be able to easily incorporate any future changes.

I did glance through the Google Visualization data source API, and Google provides a Java library that does all of the heavy lifting. This definitely looks like the way to go for visualizing the data.

(Overly ambitious) plans from last week:

  • Finish getting WattDepot build environment working
    • done
  • Get WattDepot responding to ping API (ala Hackystat sensorbase)
    • done, even has a unit test
  • Read through sensorbase REST API
    • not done
  • Read Google Visualization data source API and libraries
    • only glanced at it, but looks like I can use the Java library and not the raw API
  • Start work on WattDepot REST API
    • not done
  • Write down initial thoughts on research questions
    • not done
  • Start porting over Derby code from sensorbase to WattDepot
    • not done or even thought about

Other accomplishments from last week:

  • Helped test and debug the latest version of the Hackystat build environment
  • Paid for my classes & fees. Hoping for a refund via tuition waiver 🙂
  • Attended the Hawaii Clean Energy Festival, didn’t win anything exciting. Mostly the same folks who had booths at Hawaii Clean Energy Day back in June.

Pointers to work products:

Plans for this week:

  • Read through sensorbase REST API
  • Start work on WattDepot REST API
  • Read up on Google Visualization data source library
  • Write down initial thoughts on research questions

Cool links:

  • This cool website displays the carbon-intensity of the UK electrical grid based on (near-real time?) data from UK utilities. The great thing about it is that it displays the carbon intensity like a traffic light, so you can use it to make decisions on the use of appliances like dishwashers. It would be great if we could get similar data from HECO.
  • Sensorpedia says that it is a Web 2.0 system for sharing all types of sensor data. It’s in an invitation-only beta, and the public information on the website is thin. Something to keep an eye on.

End of spring semester

This is my final blog post for this semester. Made some good progress: literature review completed, research portfolio approved, clearer focus on electricity conservation, a sketch of an experimental design for Saunders Hall, and interesting possible directions with REIS. I’m planning to develop my proposal during the summer and hopefully defend before the fall semester begins.

I started work on creating a graph of renewable energy production in Hawaii based on the figures from DBEDT. The idea is to produce a chart that can be updated monthly showing how the state (and Oahu) are doing compared to the renewable energy portfolio standards, and more recent renewable production targets. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single spreadsheet cell that captures renewable energy: there is one for wind and hydro, but that doesn’t account for solar or geothermal energy. It looks like energy purchased by the utility from other providers (like the geothermal on the Big Island) is lumped together. I was hoping it would be trivial to produce such a chart, but it looks like it will require some additional work.

Planned items from last week:

  • Get Plone set up for REIS website
    • done
  • Finish revisions on 09-12
    • done
  • Send 09-12 to Dave Nixon
    • done
  • Make graph of Hawaii state energy usage
    • made some progress

Other accomplishments this week:

Hours worked: 30 (target: 30 hr)

Pointers to work products:

Cool links:

  • Stack Overflow, an interesting site for programmers to ask questions to other programmers. Has wiki, forum, and social news (voting) aspects.

REIS grant heating up

I finished my draft intervention comparison tech report for Saunders Hall, and got feedback from Philip. I’ve made most of the changes, except the most important change, which is to fill out the recommendation section with more details. I’ll finish that this week, and send it off to Dave Nixon.

The REIS grant is now heating up, so I’m working on getting a website set up for REIS. URL coming soon to a blog post near you.

My algorithms class is drawing to a close. The final presentation is today, and I have 2 weeks to finish my final report. Then the glorious summer begins.

Planned items from last week:

  • Finish draft of intervention comparison tech report
    • done
  • Revise draft based on Philip’s comments
    • partly done, need to fill out experimental design section
  • Send 09-12 to Dave Nixon
    • not done
  • Make graph of Hawaii state energy usage
    • not done

Other accomplishments this week:

  • Obtained domain name for REIS grant website
  • Set up virtualized Apache server on dasha for REIS website
  • Learned how to use beamer to create a presentation in LaTeX

Hours worked: 15 (target: 30 hr)

Plans for coming week:

  • Get Plone set up for REIS website
  • Finish revisions on 09-12
  • Send 09-12 to Dave Nixon
  • Make graph of Hawaii state energy usage

Pointers to work products:

Cool links:

  • Tarsnap, a paranoid remote backup system