2012-07-31

Co.Exist

A New Point System Lets You Measure The Sustainability Impact Of Anything

EnergyPoints, a data mining startup, has developed a way to compare whether a wind farm or a desalination plant will do more good--using just one simple number.

There are any number of problems facing the world right now, and a limited amount of resources and time to handle them. Sometimes, you have to think about triage. But the scope of the problems can make that hard. What’s more important: creating clean energy or managing water scarcity. Those two issues are measured differently, making it hard for non-experts to compare them analytically.

Energy Points is a new startup on a mission to quantify sustainability. Instead of using different ways of conceptualizing consumption (say, of water, electricity, waste, transportation and the like) the company smooths out diverse units and translates them into one common denominator: the amount of energy it takes to generate one gallon of gasoline.

A state-by-state map of energy production, as measured by energy per gallon.

The result is that companies (and eventually individuals) can conduct one-to-one comparison of any sustainability project or resource consumption, regardless of the native unit of measure (kWh, gallons, BTUs, CO2 abated). All of these units of measurement are now expressed in energy per gallon, the same way miles per gallon represents the miles you get for one gallon of gas in a car.

“We’d like people to think quantitatively about energy,” says Ory Zik, the founder and CEO of Energy Points. “We’d like to become the de facto standard for the way you think about energy. It’s just the same way you buy a car and have a miles-per-gallon rating of 30. Instead, you buy a house, and have an energy-per-gallon rating of 25 and you know what that means.”

Zik says that there are serious problems with the way that people try to assess environmental sustainability. To start, there is no sensitivity to location and time, and there is often a separation between renewable energy and energy efficiency, which in reality are two sides of the same coin. But the biggest problem? The units just don’t match up. If a sustainability officer at a company tries to parse some stats: say the company’s carbon footprint increased by 5 million tons, the water footprint decreased by 1 million gallons, and the company generated 200 tons of waste. “The problem isn’t the availability of data, it’s the interpretation,” says Zik.

A state-by-state map of water scarcity, as expressed by energy per gallon.

By leveling the playing field, Energy Points can give companies a very clear sustainability budget. The company crunches the numbers for local parameters for energy production and water scarcity in each state or metro area, and expresses the outcomes in EPG. For example, with water data, the company integrates information from every water facility in the country and monitors satellite images and real-time data flows from USGS to make sure their data is comprehensive and reliable.

Looking at the two maps above, you can see that Idaho leads the nation in EPG when it comes to electricity, due largely to a massive amount of wind power. But its water situation is far worse. That might be a good and simple way to show government officials where to invest more time and resources.

Using the points, a company could also compare a solar project directly with a water management project, and so on. “The end result is that sustainability doesn’t have to be based on adjectives,” says Zik, adding that math and science can be the basis for decision making.

Zik is no stranger to the environmental movement. In the early 1990s, he founded Greenpeace Israel. With his background in physics, Zik wanted to find environmental solutions based more in science than emotion. This idea continued after he founded HelioFocus, one of Israel’s biggest solar companies--he wanted to quantify that the energy they were generating was actually sustainable, given the large amounts of steel, glass, and other resources that were consumed to make it. “It’s all about taking complex data and letting people compare in context, simply.”

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3 Comments

  • Rodenburg

    Um... if I understand the graphics, Idaho is not doing well because of wind power, but because of solar. 

    You need to explain that the higher the number, the better, like MPG.

     

  • buy positively

    This is awesome, something we really need. A big issue with the current economy is that we aren't measuring everything that really matters and focusing in on only part of the picture. Being able to standardize a measurement for sustainability will help us move forward on this fight. 

    One thought I had.. Why energy per gallon? There's been a lot written/talked about in relation to carbon and measuring CO2 emissions, etc. Why is EPG a good standard? 

  • Bill Abide

    CO2 is not intuitive, miles per gallon is ingrained in our minds.  Also , C02 is on of the measurements that needs to be normalized.  Does anyone really know what it means to abate 1000 lbs of C02? and finally, C02 is divisive. rightly or wrongly, people have a visceral reaction to counting C02.  Turning everything to energy and counting the energy it takes to generate any resource avoids all of that