> 1,000 Words: Interactive Energy Visualizations
If ”a picture is worth 1,000 words,” then what is the value of an infographic, an animation, or a data visualization? The Innovation Exchange is developing methods to clarify complex energy concepts and provide technical information. With the help of designers, animators, and videographers, we will produce this content for the web. > 1,000 words is a regular i.e. feature; Jenny Edwards and Lester Shen are co-authors for this post.
The Innovation Exchange maintains a list of publically available energy datasets. It’s one of our most popular online resources, but downloading a spreadsheet of numbers isn’t always the easiest way to identify trends or reach a course of action. In previous posts, we’ve explained how data viz helps CEE understand our own energy information and communicate our findings to energy consumers.
Several organizations have produced interactive online tools, maps, and calculators that allow users to explore and play with large and complex energy datasets. We’ve collected some of our favorites below. Some provide an overview to a broad audience; some combine datasets with maps for additional insight into regional energy use; and others are powered by general data that can bring a new perspective to your energy work. Enjoy!
1) The International Energy Agency created an interactive Future Energy Scenarios visualization with data from their report "Energy Technology Perspectives 2012: Pathways to a Clean Energy System." You can focus in on specific scenarios; for example this screenshot shows building energy flows in 2035:
What do we like about it? Similar to the Lawrence Livermore National Lab energy flow chart, tracing energy use through different sectors and end uses helps identify the scale of the energy economy and opportunities for improvements. Take for example, the amount of energy losses that occur through conversion. This interactive graph lets the viewer isolate different flows (e.g. hover over residential) and see changes through time.
2) OnTheMap helps you dig into detailed US Census data. You can select a metropolitan area or zip code, then perform an analysis on its labor market. Here's a map and chart showing the distances of commutes to the Minneapolis area and the job density in 2010:
Transportation accounts for a significant portion of US energy consumption, and you can use this tool to generate a great visualization of how the region's residents or workers commute to work. This tool includes a lot of data, so there is a small learning curve to understand the interface. But once it is familiar, it’s a significant improvement over looking up Census tables.
3) MIT’s UrbMet.org visualizes the resource intensity of cities. This tool is unique because it looks beyond metered energy use to the resource intensity to build and maintain the urban form. We used it to generate this energy intensity heatmap of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area:Census tables.
One of the benefits of the UrbMet approach is their transparent data assumptions about energy and material use. Their list of conversion factors for the calculations even allows comments.
4) We’ve already highlighted our favorite features of World Resource Institute's Power Almanac of the American Midwest, which organizes data from about 50 different sources into an intuitive and interactive map of the Midwest's energy supply system. For example, the map below shows net electricity imports and exports by state.
It would be interesting to see how this map has changed over time, or with the seasons.
5) Gapminder’s animated bubble charts are eye-opening classics. The screen grab below came from an animation of income per person and CO2 emissions over time, offering an interesting perspective on the relationships between energy consumption, standard of living, and environmental impact.
Their fact-driven project has inspired many other visualizations.
6) The Cambridge Solar Tool was developed by the Sustainable Design Lab at MIT and Modern Development Studio LLC, in collaboration with the City of Cambridge Community Development Department. Cambridge MA residents, businesses, and property owners can use the tool to learn how much electricity can be produced on their rooftops from solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, how the financial investment will pay off, and how much pollution will be reduced.
Note: while this visualization is appealing and imaginative, it's not the most comprehensive tool for planning a potential PV system.
7) Like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian is an excellent source for data visualizations. Using British residential gas and electricity use data from the Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC), they created an interactive tool displaying a detailed picture of domestic energy use in Britain.
8) And the DECC developed a National Heat Map in support of local low-carbon energy projects. Powered by aggregated energy consumption statistics (not metered energy use) and geographic info such locations of power stations and regional boundaries, it generates heat demand density maps for all building sectors to help determine at which locations heat distribution installations are likely to be cost-effective.
Because the maps are based on modeling and not personal data, once a user identifies an address as having potential, he or she must track down the site’s direct data. It would be interesting to see a similar tool based on US statistics.
9) National Geographic has created informative visualizations for their Great Energy Challenge that are appropriate for users with a wide range of energy backgrounds.This map of the global electricity mix helps you understand energy resources and consumption by continent:
You can see the outlook over time and browse through related links for more information.
10) Finally, if you live in Minnesota, you can join CEE’s Minnesota Energy Challenge and access online resources to help reduce your energy consumption. The site includes calculators that show your carbon footprint and how much CO2 your energy actions save compared to those of the average participant.