Last week, the Department of Energy announced the winners of its Apps for Energy contest that challenged developers to create apps using Green Button -- an open standard for sharing electricity data of utility customers -- that would help consumers to understand and reduce their energy use. The first place winner was Leafully, an app that calculates a user's energy use and then displays the impact in number of trees as a way to help users understand the environmental impact of energy consumption.
Leafully's contest entry states that the app "is about helping people understand energy usage. A huge problem is that the units of energy are hard to comprehend. Leafully brings these terms down to something simple - a tree. Leafully also recognizes that energy usage is more than just electricity usage and thus tries to give the user a total tree footprint - the amount of trees needed to offset the pollution created by one's energy consumption."
Users have four main views: overview, trends, calculator and ways to save. The app compiles historical data for electricity, natural gas and miles driven where users can see hourly breakdowns. Leafully also separates out sleeping energy -- the "always on" energy that can be reduced through more efficient appliances -- and peak time use. Users save trees when they upgrade to efficient appliances but rack up peak-energy trees during high-demand hours to demonstrate that the energy being used then is less efficient and often dirtier.
The app also lets a user see the mix of energy coming they're using from their utility and the impact if they were to use only renewable energy.
Users sign into the app with their Facebook account and all of their stats can be shared there. The Leafully creators didn't have enough time to fully build out the social aspect of the app by the contest deadline, but they envision Facebook friends working together to reduce their energy use and showing the tree impact across groups of friends to give it a community feel. They want to utilize Facebook to create a critical mass that would hopefully encourage people to make positive changes.
"Using what we know about badges, working with friends, and other social motivators, we can shape the habits of our generation to demand renewable energy, smart grids, high-efficient products and the development of the energy industry."
The contest awarded second prize to an app called Melon that evaluates the energy performance of commercial buildings to help building owners to obtain the Energy Star benchmark. The third prize went to Velobill, which is similar to Leafully except it focuses on the cost of energy as opposed to the environmental impact. It provides consumers with their entire energy picture: how much they spend on gas, water and electricity, whether their bill has gone up or down, and how they compare to peers.
Though the DOE judging has ended, you can still vote for the Popular Choice Award until May 31 here.