From void into vision, from vision to mind, from mind into speech, from speech to the tribe, from the tribe into din.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Design for Limited Attention Spans: 9 Minutes for Energy

Opower ( designs customer engagement programs for more than 90 partners in the utility industry.  They serve millions of domestic and commercial customers on three continents, North America, Europe, and Asia, providing energy efficiency services through customer engagement, helping them to understand and manage their energy use.  This results in higher levels of energy efficiency, increased demand response, and improved grid resilience.

Since "The average person thinks about energy use for only nine minutes per year,” as Deena Rosen, Senior Director of User Experience for Opower said at GreenTechMedia's Soft Grid conference ( on 9/10/14, Opower has to design with limited attention spans in mind.  [more at GreenTechMedia

Design rules for limited attention spans:

Always pair data with insight - Opower uses a utility bill format that compares your usage to your neighbors and gives you usable feedback on your energy use.  In some areas, a little star or two at the bottom of the bill for high efficiency customers kept them improving.

Personalize it

Don’t make people work to understand the ideas involved.

Use familiar mental models

Always lead to action - create triggers for the right moments:  changing the label on the can from Trash to Landfill can affect a decision "at that key point where I'm about to throw something away. This is behavioral design,” Deena Rosen said.  "At Opower, we've become experts in behavioral design for energy users.”

Aim for a long relationship - don’t annoy the customer and make communications two-way.

Build for everyone - "Energy users are not a tidy, well-defined group," said Rosen, "35 percent are renters that don't have complete control over the building they live in.”  Know the audience and the channels available:  70% are not digitally available, 8% of men are colorblind and can't read charts by color.

Assume people don’t care.  Opower bears the "burden of relevance: boring until proven otherwise.” Their utility bills provide the raw data within familiar mental models - comparison to average energy use, record of our own use over time, proportions of use devoted to heating, cooling, cooking, refrigeration, plug loads…

Design for the actual behavior people exhibit, "nudge" people in the right direction at the right time in an effective way. 

I wonder how people can apply these proven ideas on behavioral design to climate change, globally, locally, personally, and immediately. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Smart Phones to Tricorders

The Tricorder XPrize ( is a $10 million contest 

"to bring healthcare to the palm of your hand.
Imagine a portable, wireless device in the palm of your hand that monitors and diagnoses your health conditions. That’s the technology envisioned by this competition, and it will allow unprecedented access to personal health metrics."

22 teams have paid the $5000 entry fee, 10 finalists will be chosen, up to 10 models will be tested by consumers May-October 2015, and the winning entry will be announced by December 2015.

One of the entries is Scanadu which seems to have a “$150 tricorder" already on the market 

"The Scanadu SCOUT is incredibly easy to use--just raise the handheld device (connected by Bluetooth to a smartphone) to your temple, and wait 10 seconds for it to scan your vital signs, including temperature, ECG, SPO2, heart rate, breathing rate, and pulse transit time (that helps measure blood pressure). 'It lets the consumer explore all the diagnostic possibilities of an emergency room,' explains co-founder Walter De Brouwer, a Belgian futurist and entrepreneur who first prototyped a backpack-sized tricorder-like device in the late 1990s.”

University of Florida’s wireless and remote vital signs monitoring system may be available (for pets) as early as 2016:

Another smart phone environmental monitoring system on the market now is Sensordrone, a successful Kickstarter project (

"Packing more than 11 sensors into one tiny package, Sensordrone turns your smartphone into a carbon monoxide detector, non-contact thermometer, gas leak detector, lux meter, weather station, diagnostic tool & more.

Sensordrone is an open platform for a variety of sensors and Bluetooth peripheral device apps with 11 Android apps available now for free.

Sensordrone Video:

SafeCast, the people who built the bGeigie Geiger counter that enables citizens' monitoring of radiation in Japan  since the destruction of the Fukushima nuclear reactors, are now expanding their work to other environmental issues:

Jack Andraka, the HS student who developed a “cheap, accurate" pancreatic cancer test a year or so ago, has been working with a group of International Science and Engineering Fair students on 

"a handheld device (known as a raman spectrometer) that can be used to detect explosives, environmental contaminants, and cancer in the human body. Today, raman spectrometers are extremely delicate, can be as large as a small car, and cost up to $100,000. Andraka’s model costs $15 and is the size of a cell phone."
These hand-held raman spectrometers are already in industrial use:

RAPIDID fits in the palm of your hand yet delivers fast, highly accurate results wherever and whenever testing is needed. The compact Raman spectrometer addresses the growing need for non-destructive analysis of raw, intermediate and finished products in a range of industrial areas.
The rugged design, clear LED display and push button control makes RAPIDID suitable for the busiest operations. Material identification is carried out by comparing the unique molecular fingerprint to that of known reference materials stored in a pre-loaded spectral library. Additional reference materials can be added in less than a minute.

Thermo Scientific TruScan is a rugged, handheld, lightweight Raman system for rapid raw material verification. Non-destructive point-and-shoot operation enables verification through sealed packaging to minimize risk of exposure and contamination. Its embedded analysis software delivers a PASS/FAIL decision verifying the identity of a sample typically within 30 seconds.

Spectroscopic analysis of just about anything in the palm of your hand is not the future.  It's now.

Methane Cell Phone Sniffers

Saturday, June 07, 2014

It Ain't How Much Energy We Generate, It's How Much We "Reject" (for the USA at least)

Every year, I look at the US annual energy budget chart and figure out a rough percentage of how energy efficient our economy is, the percentages of "useful" and "rejected" energy (the terms Lawrence Livermore National Labs uses).  Recently, I went back and looked at each year from 1991 to 2013 to see what the trends have been.  

Three things stand out: we "reject" or waste over half the energy we produce;  we haven't improved that efficiency over the last 22 or 23 years;  and we have spent the last 15 years or so at an energy plateau between 95 and 100 quadrillion btu's.

At some point, I might take a look at the growth rates of the economy since 1999 till now to get an idea at how US economic production fares under a relatively steady state energy regime.
1991 - 81 quads 
                         30.3 useful [37.40%]
                                                         44.4 rejected [54.81%]
1992 - 82 quads 
                         31.6 useful [39.01%]
                                                         44.4 rejected [54.81%]

1993 - 84 quads 
                         31 useful [36.90%]
                                                        46.9 rejected [55.83%]
1994 - 86.25 quads 
                        31.37 useful [36.37%]
                                                        47.67 rejected [55.269%]
1995 - 90.99 quads 
                        34.4057 useful [37.81%]
                                                        49.47 rejected [54.37%]

1996 - 93.83 quads 
                        35.44 useful [37.77%]
                                                         50.99 rejected [54.34%]

1997 - 93.83 quads 
                        35.7327 useful [38.08%]
                                                         51.8455 rejected [55.25%]

1998 - 94.78 quads 
                        34.3109 useful [35.14%]
                                                         52.0351 rejected [54.90%]

1999 - 97 quads 
                        36.8 useful [37.93%]
                                                         53.2 rejected [54.84%]

2000 - 98.5 quads 
                        34.3 useful [34.82%]
                                                         57.8 rejected [58.68%]

2001 - 97 quads 
                        35 useful [36.08%]
                                                         55.9 rejected [57.62%]

2002 - 97.8 quads 
                       42.40 useful [43.35%]
                                                          55.36 rejected [56.60%]

2003 - 98.1 quads 
                       42.65 useful [43.47%]
                                                          55.48 rejected [56.55%]

2004 - 100.2 quads
                         43.43 useful [43.34%]
                                                          56.75 rejected [56.63%]

2005 - 100.4 quads 
                         42.93 useful [42.75%]
                                                          57.47 rejected [57.24%]

2006 - 99.8 quads 
                        42.32 useful [42.40%]
                                                         57.43 rejected [57.54%]

2007 - 101.5 quads 
                         43.04 useful [42.40%]
                                                          58.47 rejected [57.60%]

2008 - 99.2 quads 
                       42.15 useful [42.48%]
                                                        57.07 rejected [57.53%]

2009 - 94.6 quads 
                       39.97 useful [42.25%]
                                                        54.64 rejected [57.75%]

2010 - 98 quads 
                     41.88 useful [42.73%]
                                                      56.13 rejected [57.27%]

2011 - 97.3 quads 
                       41.7 useful [42.85%]
                                                      55.6 rejected [57.14%]

2012 - 95.1 quads 
                       37 useful [38.90%]
                                                    58.1 rejected [61.09%]

2013 - 97.4 quads 
                     38.4 useful [39.42%]
                                                    59.0 rejected [60.57%]

Data from
More data at the Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Review page here:

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sun Money

Solar is power and currency not only as energy, electricity, heat but also as politics,  economics, and sociology.  Solar energy is, by definition, local production, swadeshi, what Gandhi called the "heart of satyagraha," soul force, non-violent action.

Gandhi would spin for an hour each day, usually producing a hundred yards of thread, and helped develop a simple spinning wheel (charkha) that allowed many to do the same. He believed that spinning was the foundation of non-violence. I believe this type of practical labor has to be the core of any sustainable ecological action.

We need a solar swadeshi, an ecological practice on a daily basis that allows us to live within our solar income. Gandhi used the charkha, the spinning wheel. What would be an ecological charkha, a solar charkha?

Could we do with electricity what Gandhi did with cloth, at least for emergencies and disasters? Can hand-made electricity, 21st century khadi cloth, provide real electrical power to the people and a survival level of energy independence and autonomy?

Here are some examples where solar energy is building economies that are closer to the practices of a Gandhian economics, a non-violent economics, a solar swadeshi, a kind of sun money.

Grameen Shakti [Village Energy] of Bangladesh

GS [Grameen Shakti] is one of the largest and fastest growing rural based renewable energy companies in the world. GS is also promoting Small Solar Home System to reach low income rural households.

SHSs can be used to light up homes, shops, fishing boats etc. It can also be used to charge cellular phones, run televisions, radios and cassette players. SHSs have become increasingly popular among users because they present an attractive alternative to conventional electricity such as no monthly bills, no fuel cost, very little repair, maintenance costs, easy to install any where etc.
GS installed SHSs have made a positive impact on the rural people. GS has introduced micro-utility model in order to reach the poorer people who cannot afford a SHS individually. Another successful GS venture is Polli Phone which allows people is off grid areas the facilities of telecommunication through SHS powered mobile phones.
GS has developed an effective strategy for reaching people in remote and rural areas with solar PV technology. It involves:
Soft credit through installments which makes SHSs affordable
Advocacy and Promotion
Community involvement and social acceptance
Effective after sales service
Blending Technology with Market Forces

More on Grameen Shakti at


ReadyPay is our patent-pending financial platform that allows customers to pay-to-own Fenix solar energy systems over time. Engineered to integrate with any mobile money system, ReadyPay enables customers to make payments from a mobile phone and receive a secure code to unlock access to solar power until another payment is due.

From payment history, we are building a massive dataset to create a next generation credit score for the 2.2 billion unbanked adults in emerging markets (Source: McKinsey).

Launched in Uganda in partnership with Africa’s largest telecom MTN, ReadyPay Solar is available now for as little $0.39 per day.



Solar currency.
SolarCoin is a digital currency incentivizing solar electricity. Spend it, trade it, exchange it.
Solar energy incentive.
SolarCoin represents one MWh of solar energy generated. SolarCoin rewards solar electricity generators both large and small.
A group effort.
Use Solarcoin. Join the solar power economy. SolarCoin holders help produce 97,500 TWh. 99% of SolarCoins to be distributed to solar energy generators over 40 years.

SolarCoin is an alternative digital currency. SolarCoin is backed by two forms of proof of work. One is the traditional cryptographic proof of work associated with digital currency.  Another proof of work is a 3rd party verified meter reading. SolarCoin is equitably distributed using both of these proofs of work as a means to reward solar energy generation.
Solar Coin Helps the Environment
Solar energy, unlike fossil fuels, does not place excess heat or carbon into the atmosphere. The long term intent is to provide an incentive to produce more solar electricity globally over the next 40 years by rewarding the generators of solar electricity.  SolarCoin is intended to shift the levelized cost of energy (LOCE). Source:solarcoin wiki
Technical details relating to SolarCoin are on


Richard Komp has been seeding solar cottage industry around the world for over thirty years.  Here is news of his latest project in Liberia.

A group of Liberians living in the Boston area asked me to go to Liberia to give a three part course on solar energy. I have just finished the first part of the course at the Monrovian Vocational Training Center for the 27 students who will be part of a new solar corporation they are now planning. In the first part of the course, the students made small solar cell phone chargers, then graduated to bigger 15 watt PV modules that can be used to light up small squatter huts and rural grass huts. We ourselves used these modules to recharge a 12 volt deep=cycle battery so we would have continuous power to run our tools, since the Center rarely had electricity.

We spent the second week on solar thermal systems, making a solar box cooker big enough to “cook” the large PV modules we made next. We managed to cook both a 65 watt and a custom 75 watt module for a solar water pump we installed, at the same time in the solar oven (a first for cooking two at once).


Maasai Stoves and Solar ( installs locally made, more efficient cookstoves and chimneys in Maasai homes, reducing the time and material needed for cooking and providing profound health benefits for women and children.

Maasai Stoves & Solar Project addresses profound international health challenges affecting millions.

Read about our work, reducing indoor smoke in the homes of pastoral people in the developing world, caused by the use of indoor cooking fires.
We replace the fires with our stove and chimney that produces ninety percent less smoke, benefitting families and the environment.
Help us achieve these goals
Healthier indoor air quality
Improved health
Women’s empowerment
Locally-built solutions
Environmental conservation
Mitigating climate change

We are well on our way to completing the requirements for carbon credit certification. Part of the process includes baseline surveys and measurement of the wood savings of our stove directly and by efficiency studies, performed by an outside authority.


There is a way you can look at the world that brings energy, money, and information into a single focus where energetic calories, cash and credit, bits and data all melt one into the other and back again.  All these  enterprises are explorations into that world.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Solar Powered Amish Buggy

Monday, January 06, 2014

Sustainable Development and Climate Change: 2 Free Online Courses

I'd like to participate in an ongoing on and off line brainstorm using Buckminster Fuller's World Game design criteria, "How can we make the world work for 100 percent of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone?" and one of Bill McDonough's Ecological Design Principles, "Use only available solar income."

Here are some free resources that are edging, gingerly, towards that possibility.
"Age of Sustainable Development ( ) gives students an understanding of the key challenges and pathways to sustainable development - that is, economic development that is also socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable."

free 14 week course taught by Jeffrey Sachs
starting January 21

Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided ( )
"It is now becoming clear that without necessary climate action, the world may become 4°C warmer by the end of this century. As this threatens to roll back decades of development progress, this is a ‘make or break’ point. This course presents the most recent scientific evidence as well as some of the opportunities for urgent action."

free World Bank MOOC [Massive Open Online Course] on climate change
starting January 27

e4Dev, Energy for Development, a student group at MIT is teaching a 4 day course this week (January 7-10, 2014) "Exploring the intersection of energy and human development, Racing Towards Universal Energy Access: Why the Next 2 Billion Users Matter (more than you think).  Eventually, they want to produce their own online course as well but their Fall lectures are already available as videos online:

Prospects for Grid-Connected PV in Kenya

Technical and Economic Analysis of PV DC Microgrids

Reliable Alternative Energy Options for Access:  Lessons from China's Countryside

Power Africa

Electrifying Rural India with Solar Microgrids:  Adoption and Impact

Water Desalination:  Prospects for Energy and Demand


Sunday, January 05, 2014

Toilets, Stoves, and Solar

Susan Murcott, Bob Lange, and Richard Komp are three grassroots environmental activists who are changing lives all around the world.  Susan is a water researcher whose work on simple water filters has benefitted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people from Guatemala to Ghana.  Her latest project is building a block of toilets for a school in a village in Ghana, the second project of this kind she has been involved with.  Bob is a physics professor who has been doing science education in Africa for many years, an activity that morphed into installing small solar systems for villages in Tanzania and now into designing, building, and installing efficient cookstoves with the Maasai people. This year, his work is expanding into Uganda.  Richard is a solar expert who has worked on everything from the physics of solar electricity to building solar stoves from scrap.   He has been teaching people all around the world how to do solar as a cottage industry for about three decades now.  His latest idea is to outfit a sailboat as a floating solar workshop that can teach people throughout the Caribbean how to better their lives with simple solar technologies. You can read his reports on his international work at

I consider myself immensely privileged to know all three of these remarkable and remarkably effective people.

"We are raising money to construct a toilet block for a school in the village of Gbalahi in Ghana."  They need about another $7000 in the next 40 days or so.

Roughly a billion people worldwide live without safe drinking water and each year millions are sickened by waterborne diseases, a condition CEE Senior Lecturer Susan Murcott hopes to improve through dissemination of household drinking water treatment and safe storage systems, a cluster of innovative technologies she has helped invent and promote: one used by about 800,000 people in Guatemala; another that removes pathogens and clarifies turbidity in Ghanaian drinking water used by over 100,000 people; and a third, a filter sold in Nepal to screen out arsenic and bacteria, which has so far reached 350,000 people. All three projects make use of locally available materials and the local workforce to create jobs in manufacturing and sales. Many CEE Masters of Engineering students, School of Engineering, DUSP and Sloan students have worked with Murcott on these projects, which were showcased at the Expo Bid Symposium in October in Dubai and will be honored during the World Expo 2020 in Dubai.Read a related story: also:

Read about our work, reducing indoor smoke in the homes of pastoral people in the developing world, caused by the use of indoor cooking fires.We replace the fires with our stove and chimney that produces ninety percent less smoke, benefitting families and the environment.

Floating Solar Workshop SailboatProject for the Miskito Coast in NicaraguaBy Richard Komp, Director - Skyheat Associates
In December I will be going to the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua for the third short solar course I will teach there. This time I will be taking a small sailboat on an overnight trip to get to the remote workshop site.
Our biggest concern is the pirates and drug smugglers in this part of the Caribbean but Nicaragua is currently pretty free of these marauders since the Sandinista government has taken control.
The Donated SailboatWhat I am looking for is a boat that is between 40 and 50 feet long that could be donated by somebody or a corporation. Skyheat Associates is a 501(c)(3) Public Charity and the donation would be tax deductible. We are not fussy about the condition or type of boat but our criteria are floating and able to be fixed up well enough to get from Florida to the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua, where it can be fixed up better and converted to the floating workshop center. It would be good if the boat had a draft of 4 feet or less since many of the places we will be visiting have shallow inlets or bays.
The Grupo Fenix in Nicaragua already works in that part of the country and we have good contacts along the Miskito Coast to have this refurbishing work done properly.
Crowdsourcing to pay for the ProjectThis project will take quite a bit of money, both for outfitting the boat and for the cost of all this traveling around the Caribbean. People have suggested that we try raising the money on the Internet and I think I will ask the next person who suggests this to go ahead and do it. I will give that person or group all the information where they can send the check when they are successful.
We are looking to raise $30,000 in total for the project. Most of the places where the floating center will be giving workshops are occupied by 3rd World people who live on less than $2 a day and the workshops will be free for them; but the project will have quite a few expenses for living costs and workshop materials. Of course places like Akumal in Mexico have a lot of student volunteers from the 1st World who can pay for the workshop, so some of the boat’s expenses will be paid that way; but in general, the project will need donated funds to operate properly. Some of the volunteers who wish to take part in this project may also have money to pay their own way. 
I already have lots of people who have volunteered to help me sail around the Caribbean; but we will need volunteers to help raise money and work on the sailboat. Please feel free to contact me if you are interested. We are now setting up a Crowdsourcing website and will send more information when the donation system is running. The plan includes the opportunity to attend one of the solar workshops or sail on the boat as part of the bonus for a larger donation
Contact Information, For more information or help: Richard Komp, PhD, Director Skyheat Associates,PO Box 184, Harrington ME 04643 207-497-2204, 207- 356-0225 cell