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July 26, 2013

App Tells You "Watt Time" Is Good to Run Appliances, Plug In the Car


Plugging in a car is enormously better for the planet than filling up at the pump. But how green is your power source when you plug in? That was a question UC Berkeley Ph.D. student and Sierra Club member Gavin McCormick wanted to explore when he developed WattTime, a real-time energy monitoring service that lets you know the best times to plug in a car, run the dishwasher, or do the laundry.

"This is a way to look at your carbon footprint in real time," said McCormick. "The focus isn’t peak versus off-peak hours. We’re focused on clean versus dirty energy. With utilities providing power from a variety of different sources, home and business owners have almost no way of knowing where those sources are coming from."

WattTime, which is still in beta, sends text message alerts that detail how green the electricity is at any given moment and location. In general, research shows that the cleanest energy in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic happens during the day, "or right after you get home from work," said McCormick; the Southwest, the Rockies, and Texas  around bedtime; and the New England and West Coast states around five or six in the morning. McCormick likened WattTime to weather updates -- something that can change within an hour.

A typical text might say something like: "WattTime Alert! Your power is from Coal right now. Help us use less of that dirty energy source! Can you turn out an extra light?" or "WattTime Alert! Your power is unusually clean right now -- wind. Can you avoid wasting that clean power? Great time to do laundry or dishes!" He said savings for individuals would be comparable to switching from a traditional big appliance to an EnergyStar labeled appliance.


McCormick first developed the idea behind WattTime with Google and Climate Corporation programmers for the CleanTech Goes Social contest, where it was a finalist.

"Since that time, the Facebook Sustainability team has been helping us to try to grow this small piece of software into a nonprofit or startup with real impact," he said.

Facebook then referred Gavin to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, where he’s been working with Dan Proctor, chair of the Sierra Club of Massachusetts. WattTime made the app available only to a select few Sierra Club and Facebook representatives. Now it’s open to people in California and New England. But McCormick plans to expand accessibility to larger circles as the service and its features mature - and he hopes to turn it someday into either a business or a non-profit.

Learn more about WattTime here.

- Brian Foley


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