When most people think of clean technology, the images that spring to mind are often solar panels and wind turbines. However, the Cleanweb Hackathon in New York City, which took place three weekends ago, showed that computer code and social media are also changing how people interact with energy and other resources, and should perhaps also be on that list.
Hackathons, most often found used within digital industries, are weekend gatherings in which small teams build applications in just two intense days. Cleanweb, as defined by venture capitalist Sunil Paul of Spring Ventures, is “a category of clean technology that leverages the capability of the internet, social media, and mobile technologies to address resource constraints.”
As part of Climate Week, over 200 attendees took part in the Cleanweb Hackathon in an effort to use cleanweb to solve some of New York City’s toughest challenges. Below are some thoughts following this exciting weekend:
Tech industry takes notice: Though cleanweb has historically seen strong support in the sustainability and cleantech community, we are starting to notice the broader technology community beginning to support and invest in this concept. Case in point: Opower’s Facebook partnership which allows users to interact, compare, and face off about their own energy usage on the Opower website. In our own hackathon, Bill Weihl, Facebook’s sustainability guru, flew in from California to mentor the competing teams and then helped select winners with the rest of the impressive judges.
New York is at the center of an emerging movement: In the Green Tech 50, a list of New York State’s top cleantech companies released this month by Green Capital Empire, 11 of the companies listed could be classified as cleanweb. A strong local support system is already in place to catalyze growth. The NYC ACRE incubator at NYU-Poly, backed by NYCEDC and NYSERDA, has mentored and graduated some of New York City’s most promising cleanweb startups, including Honest Buildings and ThinkEco. Building off the strength of the Silicon Alley tech sector, cleanweb may well become New York’s landmark cleantech segment.
Diverse urban challenges attract broad interest: Of note about the apps developed at the hackathon is that they attempted to tackle a range of sustainability issues, going well beyond energy efficiency, including storm water management, food waste, open space access, and carbon reduction. This diversity demonstrates the reach that cleanweb could have in addressing our environmental concerns.
Many of the teams were aligned with PlaNYC, New York City’s sustainability vision for 2030. Participants heard from City officials about both the data made available, as well as some of the energy, water and environmental quality challenges to be addressed. Given the importance of buildings to New York City’s dense urban environment, it was appropriate that the overall winner was Green Building Banner, a Google Chrome plug-in that uses data recently released by New York City, including energy efficiency and fuel type, and overlays it on popular websites such as Streeteasy and Foursquare. By promoting transparency, the app will help users select properties based on their energy and environmental performance.
Such solutions are part of a broader trend towards open data. Through the NYC Open Data platform, over 1,200 data sets are available to the public, and similar efforts are underway globally – notably the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Data Initiative. By providing data to the public, governments are empowering entrepreneurs to create new solutions to energy and sustainability problems.
Building off the success of the initial events, Cleanweb Hackathon organizers are aiming to build a global community while empowering innovators to create specific solutions. Over the next few months, similar events are taking place in Austin, Rome, Atlanta, San Francisco and Sao Paolo. Visit cleanweb.co to learn about future events, and join the movement by following #cleanweb on Twitter.
David Gilford is an Assistant Director of NYCEDC, New York City’s primary engine for economic development, where he leads the clean technology and energy team. Sara Jayanthi is the Senior NYSERDA Energy $mart Communities Coordinator at Solar One. She also co-founded and runs Solar One’s successful Clean Energy Connections program.