How can we engage the public with the available storehouse of energy data? Visualizations and infographics are compelling, but rarely incorporate a call to action.
Given the right tools to access this data, engaged citizens could potentially find solutions to rising energy demands. Crowd sourcing new plans for energy generation on a local level could inform policy and commercial decisions.
The Power Gambit app would allow citizens to go energy prospecting across the country, as players in a massive multilevel game. The datasets and visualization techniques exist now to effect the data exploration, and the game elements will attract players to discover renewable solutions for energy generation.
Players start with a map of the US and zoom to their location of interest (perhaps their hometown). The app overlays solar, wind, and hydrokinetic potentials, as well as real utility information about the town. The goal of the first level would be to replace a specified portion of the town's energy generation with renewables. Players drag installations to the most effective locations -- say, a wind farm to a windy stretch near the highway -- and models update the potential energy generation.
This first level is key to engaging the public to become players. The rich visualization of natural, renewable resources combined with the immediate feedback on installation performance will develop intuition. Armed with this intuition of effective power generation locations, players can identify creative, minimal solutions to local energy problems.
Subsequent levels incorporate more real world constraints: varying component and installation cost, equipment lifetime, land use restrictions, simulated public support or NIMBY-ism, existing government incentives, and population growth. Achievements and competition with other players will help retain interest, in addition to the inherent problem-solving aspects. Players who beat the highest, most realistic level can submit their solutions to the local government and DOE as an actual proposal, directly through the app.
Some players may choose to perfect their solutions for their hometowns, while others may roam around the country, playing the opening levels in a wide variety of climates and geographies. Both styles can be useful for the DOE: the former will engage the public with local energy policy and provide specific tangible solutions, while the latter may reveal incentives or tactics which work broadly for large regions.
Datasets and APIs required: NREL Solar Resource API, NREL PVWatts, NREL Marine & Hydrokinetic Atlas, OpenEI WAsP wind predictor, OpenEI Solar and Wind Energy Resource Assessment, OpenEI utility rates, EIA power plant data, DSIRE energy incentives (NREL API), DOE EERE energy incentives, OpenStreetMap.