Making the issue visible: Team creates web app to display energy usage

by Amanda Hellwig ’19, Experiential Learning Network

Published April 23, 2018

Ever wonder how much energy buildings on campus use every year, or where that energy comes from? Curious to know which building uses the most energy? Well a group of students from the ELN’s Sophomore Living Learning Community are about to launch an app that will tell you just that.

Brett Baker (computer engineering), Brandon Fanelli (aerospace engineering), Pururva Lakkad (computer science) and Ayla Stafford (psychology) are working to create a web application that will provide the public with data on UB’s energy usage, including how the energy breaks down by building and what resources were used to produce the energy.

Brett Baker and Pururva Lakkad

Brett Baker and Pururva Lakkad work on their app to provide data on UB's energy usage to the public.

“Right now it is a bunch of graphs and visual displays of the energy usage data, where it comes from and which buildings are using more. We’re trying to make the data as easy to understand as possible,” says Brett.

As impressive as their idea is, it actually wasn’t their first one—they arrived at this idea after talking to several contacts they made through the ELN. Brandon came to Un-Office Hours where Prof. Jim Jensen helped him refocus their efforts on UB’s campus, and after some brainstorming, they decided to make a web app that would make information accessible so that everyone could clearly see the problem of energy usage.

Next, they contacted Derek Nichols, UB’s Sustainability Engagement Coordinator, and discovered that the data for energy usage existed but wasn’t available in a format that could be easily used. Because Derek saw the value in what the group was trying to do by making the information more accessible, he advocated for the group and helped them get the data they needed.

With the data now in hand, their web app is close to launch, and they’re brainstorming future directions and ways to get the word out. Brett says, “We’re definitely looking to build a community out of it. We’re looking for ways to get people involved, and we’re trying to figure out the best way to do that, to engage people.”

To this end, Brett will be presenting their web app to the Computer Club at the end of the semester to start getting the word out. The group will also be presenting at the ELN’s Sophomore Living Learning Community Project Showcase on Friday April 27, 2:30-4:30 p.m. in 107 Capen. They’ll have iPads available to display their web app and show people how it works, hopefully inspiring others to use it and learn from it.

Despite their different majors, the group worked as a team throughout the year to help solve part of the problem of energy use on campus, and they each got something unique out of the experience. For Brett it was the networking experience, and for Ayla it was the hands-on, creative experience. Pururva says he got to do things he never would have done in just his major, and Brandon enjoyed working with people outside his major and learning from their different perspectives.

Are you interested in getting interdisciplinary experience or working on projects to solve real-world problems? Then stop by 17 Norton to talk to Christina or Charlie about your interests and possible opportunities! And don’t forget to drop by the project showcase on Friday, April 27 to see Team Climate Change’s web app in action!