How Much Gas Do You Emit?

Johannes Hengstenberg

Most people underestimate the effect of household energy consumption on CO2 pollution, though statistics show that households and small consumers account for nearly 25 percent of all CO2 emissions.
I know that I would like to reduce my own energy consumption, but sometimes it is difficult to know how or where to start. Now, imagine if we could check our household energy consumption rates as easily and as often as some of us check our Facebook newsfeed. Our world could be infinitely more energy-conscious.

It turns out that Ashoka fellow Johannes Hengstenberg is a step ahead of us, having created a website back in 2004 that can be used to calculate household energy consumption numbers.

Through his “Climate Seeks Protection” Campaign, Johannes Hengstenberg aims to reduce CO2 emissions from private households and small consumers due to heating, electricity and transportation. Johannes believes that by saving fossil fuel energy, we can stop the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Part of this campaign’s media outreach includes Germany’s oldest polar research ship, the “Grönland”, sailing the North Sea to inform visitors along the ports about sustainable energy use.

More notably, with the help of some software engineers, Johannes developed online tools that allow consumers to analyze energy bills, track their energy consumption and take action to reduce it. Johannes has designed the tools to emphasize the economic benefits of a more sustainable lifestyle, offering personal comparisons to the national average and identifying a household’s saving potential, both monetarily and in terms of CO2.
Consumers may find that by upgrading home appliances and heating systems, modernizing water boilers or changing the materials used to build their houses, they could save up to 70 percent of energy costs.

The tools are available (in German) online at www.co2online.de free of charge. The website also offers email services, FAQ sections, and relevant how-to information on subjects ranging from modernizing heating systems and basements to insulating roofs, walls, and windows.

As of 2008, Johannes’ online tools had reached more than 2 million people in Germany.  Currently, it is estimated that users have been motivated to reduce a total of 4.5 million tons in CO2 emissions. Having replicated his approach in Austria, Johannes is now working towards expanding his efforts across the rest of Europe. He hopes to ultimately take the technology and the approach worldwide.

Since Johannes’ election as an Ashoka fellow in 2007, several related websites and applications have appeared. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency includes a Household Emissions Calculator on their website. Microsoft takes this to another level through Hohm, its online home energy management application where users can also compare their energy efficiency scores with neighbors. Utilities in some major metropolitan areas such as Chicago and Seattle have also started using the neighborly competition approach to motivate customers to reduce energy consumption, offering neighborhood comparisons along with the monthly bills. This June, Cisco announced its new Home Energy Management Solution technology which utilities can provide to their customers, featuring a countertop LCD touchscreen display that allows monitoring and control of energy use and costs in real time.

With last year’s “Cash-for-Clunkers” rebate program resulting in the purchase of almost 700,000 fuel efficient cars in the U.S., and Johanne’s success through co2online in Germany, there is reason to believe that financial incentives and easier access to information can encourage more energy saving behavior worldwide.

This article was originally published on July 12, 2010
Related TopicsEnvironment & Sustainability, Climate change

Preethi Sundararaman
Preethi Sundararaman is an Ashoka Summer Associate working with the FEC Healthcare for All team.

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