Open Innovation Energy Contest Yields Breakthrough Ideas

Published Dec-01-13

Novel solutions including a new type of utility bill win a crowdsourcing competition to help consumers make the most of their electricity usage data.

U.S. Energy Department, United States

The Story:

Open Innovation Energy Contest Yields Breakthrough Ideas With the energy and utility bills changing wildly over the years - usually going in the upwards direction rather than downwards - and concerns about the health of the planet, there has never been a greater need for consumers to make informed choices about their energy consumption.

The Green Button is an initiative in the US to provide energy consumers with access to their energy usage data in a format that is easy for them to understand. This industry-led effort follows a White House call-to-action to provide utility customers with easy and secure access to their energy usage information in a consumer-friendly format.

Big Prize Money on Offer

Following on from this the U.S. Energy Department offered $100,000 in prize money to US-based software developers and students to design novel apps that can help consumers make the most of their Green Button electricity usage data.

The relationship between competition and innovation is well established and this popular contest acted as an ideas catalyst spurring developers onto creative heights.

Competitions are big motivators that can bring out the imaginative best in people. Nearly 300 years after a prize competition was established to find a way to measure a ship’s longitude at sea, prize-based contests are still viewed as an effective way to drive innovation.

Diverse Ideas

The Apps for Energy contest attracted a diverse range of innovative ideas. Submissions were judged on 1) their potential ability to help individuals, organisations and communities 2) creativity and 3) user experience. The apps had to use Green Button data sets, although this information could be combined with other sources of information. Winners were chosen by a judging panel and by public voting and there were several winners’ categories.

Top Three Winners

The Grand Prize for the Best Overall Application and a check for $30,000 went to Leafully. The app makes it easier for people to understand their energy usage by converting the information into something they can understand - trees. For example, users will be able to find out the amount of trees needed to offset the pollution created by their energy consumption. This may encourage them to minimize their usage or seek renewable energy sources. The app also sends out alerts to individuals if it notices something unusual about their energy consumption.

The Best Overall Application Second Prize and a check for $15,000 was awarded to Melon, a company that makes it easier for commercial buildings to get an ENERGY STAR benchmark. Melon also provides buildings with solutions to reduce energy waste and save money. The people behind Melon believe the Green Button is a disruptive innovation and said that the Apps for Energy Challenge encouraged them to rapidly develop their first application.

The Best Overall Application Third prize and a check for $7,500 was awarded to VELObill. This app provides users with easy to read utility bills all in one place, as well as offering money saving tips. Usage can be tracked over weeks, months and years to uncover wasteful trends.

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