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  • Skills Needed:
    WordPress, Design, Data Visualization, AJAX, Web Bots, Cloud Storage, Energy monitoring hardware, shell scripting, linux
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The Challenge

From the Green Cup Website:

The Green Cup is a 4 week competition to reduce energy use among South 40 Residential Colleges, on-campus apartments and fraternities that takes place February 1-28, 2013. Residential Colleges and fraternities compete to reduce their energy usage by a certain percentage below a baseline. At the end of the 4-week period, the winner in each league receives a prize!

I remember meeting with Will Fischer of the WASHU Office of Sustainability on a snowy day in St. Louis in 2009.  My car slid up and down Cherokee street and I wondered what the heck I was doing taking this meeting.

Long story short he had a big idea to promote energy saving and sustainability awareness at Washington University in St. Louis’s Danforth campus.  He wanted to create ‘The Green Cup’

The challenge was to create a website that tracked real time energy consumption data of fraternities and houses on the WASHU campus.  The website display this consumption data as graphs for each ‘house’ accurate to 5 minutes.  It would also compile a ranking table that calculated the ‘rank’ in the competition for each ‘house’ based on their initial energy consumption reading change over time.  Also at this point, there wasn’t any way to collect this energy consumption data.

The Solution

Will bought a bunch of consumer level energy monitor hardware, and hooked it up all over campus.  We pumped the data from the hardware into a cloud storage service every 2 minutes.  Then we built a ‘bot’ or a smart script to pull in fresh copies of the data into a local database where it ran calculations, and ‘cleaned’ the data for presentation.  The website we custom designed, and built on WordPress.  Since it was WordPress and we wanted to be able to use this software again, we deiceded to build all the energy visualization and competition centric code into a WordPress Plugin.  The plugin code was configured for each of the houses, as well as an overall ‘rank’ table.

This project has been running for 3 years.  Each year it expanded, and with expansion we had to deal with hardware and software scaling issues. For the 2013 season the hardware was officially ‘outgrown’ and new industrial strength hardware was put into place. While this hardware upgrade is underway the real time graphing and data capture features are offline. You can still see live graphs and data export on the GreenLabs project. Hopefully for the 2014 season we will be able to partner with WASHU again to deliver even better real time energy data for another season of Green Cup.

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