Hack for the environment at the Disrupt SF Hackathon

This weekend, hundreds of developers and engineers will pack into the Disrupt SF conference space for our Hackathon, a 24-hour race to build a brand-new product. Competitors will present their inventions on stage and win prizes, in a TechCrunch tradition that’s launched products like GroupMe.

But this year, we’re doing things a little differently — we’re making data from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Net Zero Energy Residential Test Facility available for developers to incorporate into their products. The Net Zero facility is a home in Maryland that NIST has transformed into a laboratory for conducting research on energy efficiency. The four-bedroom house produces all of its own energy, with some to spare, sending the excess back to the electrical grid. It’s a model for the American home of the future, and it produces valuable data on energy use and production that developers can use to create new energy-efficient products.

The data comes to us from the Department of Commerce, which touts itself as America’s data agency. DOC produces and publishes vast datasets, generating enough information every day to fill the Library of Commerce twice over. That includes the weather data and import/export data that form the backbones of many a startup. Without that weather data, your favorite weather app couldn’t function. And companies like Flexport, which we’ve called “the unsexiest trillion dollar startup,” use DOC’s trade data to better serve their customers.

“When I became Secretary of Commerce, I made harnessing the power of Commerce data a top priority for the Department. To me, it was idle inventory on the shelf that I knew — from personal experience — has the power to create economic opportunity and change lives,” Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker told TechCrunch. “The hackathon is not only an opportunity to put our data to use in new and creative ways — it is also an opportunity to learn what we can be doing better.”

We hope that our Disrupt SF hacking teams will take this opportunity to show these government folks how we do it here in Silicon Valley. They can use the Net Zero home’s data sets to inform other projects, or create projects that are completely focused on renewable energy. Teams can work to make homes smarter or create analytics tools to provide insights on energy efficiency. We’ll have data available from the house on 400 variables across 11 subsystems, including temperature, energy, lighting and electrical usage.

“We would love to see developers create tools that visualize home energy use patterns. For instance, many Americans do not know that a clothes dryer consumes more energy than almost any other appliance in the home. With this information, individuals could make decisions that reduce the amount of energy they use and lower their energy costs,” Pritzker said. “We are also interested in the creation of an algorithm that predicts energy production from the home’s solar panels. This type of information could be used as the basis for predicting energy production under various environmental conditions.”

The market for these products is already enormous and is growing larger every day. In December, the United States and every other member of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In order to meet the commitments laid out in the Paris Agreement, it’s estimated that the world will spend $13.5 trillion.

That’s a big opportunity for major businesses, small startups, and bootstrapped products that are still only a glimmer in a hackathon participant’s eye. “This is an enormous opportunity for American businesses,” Pritzker explained. “Consumers are increasingly demanding products that are sustainably produced and cost effective.”

“Bottom line, the transition to an advanced energy economy is not just a moral responsibility to our planet and future generations today, it is good business,” she added. We hope our Disrupt hackers agree!