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WattzOn Launches to Tell You Your Life's Energy Use

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wattzonlogo1A visual representation of your life’s energy consumption will probably make you feel pretty guilty — or, at least cognizant enough to make some changes in your behavior. That’s the idea behind, a web site launched today by Saul Griffith, the co-founder of high altitude wind startup Makani Power, pull-cord power company Potenco and engineering incubator Squid Labs. Griffith, who says he made the alpha site out of a desire to know how much power he used in his life, showed off WattzOn to the audience at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco this afternoon, and demonstrated the energy consumption visuals for his own life in 2007, in which he consumed 17,027 watts.

WattzOn — part social network, part wiki, part carbon-footprint calculator-style site — works by asking users to answer questions about their demographics and daily activities, including flying, commuting and food intake. The site then prompts users to itemize all of their personal stuff, like laptop, cell phone or car. The site also includes the energy data that the government spends on each user and it says by including this data it will help members “understand and democratically lobby for change” in the way government and society use energy on citizens’ behalf. Nice, we like a little proactive call to action in there.

After users enter their information, the site returns a number in watts and a pie chart showing how much energy each section of their life consumes. Users can drill down and modify different sections of their life like commuting, air travel, and housing. Unlike carbon footprint calculators, Griffith said that he chose to use the metrics of energy instead of carbon emissions, which many carbon footprint calculators use, because there are problems associated with using only carbon metrics. We’ll follow up with him about those concerns.

The ultimate goal of WattzOn is to help users reduce their energy consumption. At this point, that’s largely through comparing user’s energy consumption to various groups: the average WattzOn member, a historical American, the world in general. The site also reports energy equivalents in terms of solar panels, wind turbines, pints of oil burned and CO2 emitted. On their own, the comparisons are already affective, but we’re thinking as the site moves into beta and full launch, we’d like to see more concrete methods on how to reduce energy consumption.

The other issue we have is that it takes both a lot of work, and a lot of information that users might not know or have, to accurately fill in and get the energy footprint data. I started to get distracted when the site asked me how many foot miles I commute a day, and how many public transportation miles I travel per day — I just estimated and then felt like perhaps I was guessing too little. And I’m likely an unusually captive audience, so anyone who cares less will have even less of an attention span to enter that info.

The process of itemizing all of a user’s stuff is also particularly daunting. I mean, everything? Seriously? But Griffith also showed the audience how, as more users add in items, the community can select from already-created items for their footprint. That’s where the Wiki/social network part comes in.

While the site is still in alpha and has a few bugs, the design overall is clean and compelling. Also listed on the site is AMEE, the startup that has created an open API for energy data, so we’re thinking Wattzon is using AMEE at least for part of its engine. Update: Griffith just got back to us and says the site is looking to work with AMEE, but is not yet doing so.