event recap

Event Recap: DC Energy and Data Summit

This is a guest post by Majid al-Dosari, a master’s student in Computational Science at George Mason University. I recently attended the first DC Energy and Data Summit organized by Potential Energy DC and co-hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Fellowship Big Data Affinity Group. I was excited to be at a conference where two important issues of modern society meet: energy and (big) data!

There was a keynote and plenary panel. In addition, there were three breakout sessions where participants brainstormed improvements to building energy efficiency, the grid, and transportation. Many of the issues raised at the conference could be either big data or energy issues (separately). However, I’m only going to highlight points raised that deal with both energy and data.

In the keynote, Joel Gurin (NYU Governance Lab, Director of OpenData500) emphasized the benefits of open government data (which can include unexpected use cases). In the energy field, this includes data about electric power consumption, solar irradiance, and public transport. He mentioned that the private sector also has a role in publishing and adding value to existing data.

Then, in the plenary panel, Lucy Nowel (Department of Energy) brought up the costs associated with the management, transport, and analysis of big data. These costs can be measured in terms of time and energy. You can ask this question: At what point does it “cost” less to transport some amount of data physically (via a SneakerNet) than it does through some computer network?

After the panel, I attended the breakout session dealing with energy efficiency of homes and businesses. The former is the domain of Opower represented by Asher Burns-Burg, while the latter is the domain of Aquicore represented by Logan Soya. It is of interest to compare the general strategy of both companies here. Opower uses psychological methods to encourage households to reduce consumption. On the other hand, Aquicore uses business metrics to show how building managers can save money. But both are data-enabled.

Asher claims that Opower is just scratching the surface with what is possible with the use of data. He also talked about how personalization can be used to deliver more effective messages to consumers. Meanwhile, Aquicore has challenges associated with working with existing (old) metering technology in order to obtain more fine-grained data on building energy use.

In the concluding remarks, I became aware of discussions at the other breakout sessions. The most notable to me was a concern raised by the transportation session: The rebound effect can offset any gain in efficiency by an increase in consumption. Also, the grid breakout session suggested that there should be a centralized “data mart” and a way to be able to easily navigate the regulations of the energy industry.

While DC is not Houston, the unique environment of policy, entrepreneurship, and analytical talent give DC the potential to innovate in this area. Credit goes to Potential Energy DC for creating a supportive environment.

Event Recap: DSDC June Meetup

This is a guest post by Alex Evanczuk, a software engineer at FiscalNote. Hello DC2!  My name is Alex Evanczuk, and I recently joined a government data startup right here in the nation's capital that goes by the name of FiscalNote. Our mission is to make government data easily accessible, transparent, and understandable for everyone. We are a passionate group of individuals and are actively looking for other like-minded people who want to see things change. If this is you, and particularly if you are a software developer (front-end, with experience in Ruby on Rails), please reach out to me at alex@fiscalnote.com and I can put you in touch with the right people.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 2.13.51 PM

The topics covered by the presenters at June’s Data Science DC Meetup were varied and interesting. Subjects included spatial forecasting in uncertain environments, cell phone surveys in Africa (GeoPoll), causal inference models for improving the lives and prospects of Children and Youth (Child Trends), and several others.

I noticed a number of fascinating trends about the presentations I saw. The first was the simple and unadulterated love of numbers and their relationships to one another. Each presenter proudly explained the mathematical underpinnings of the models and assumptions used in their research, and most had slides that contained nothing more than a single formula or graph. In my brief time in academia, I've noticed that to most statisticians and mathematicians, numbers are their poetry, and this rang true at the event as well.

To most statisticians and mathematicians, numbers are their poetry.

The second was something that is perhaps well known to data researchers, but perhaps not so much to others, and that was that the advantages and influences of data science can extend into any industry. From business, to social work, to education, to healthcare, data science can find a way to improve our understanding of any field.

The second was something that is perhaps well known to data researchers, but perhaps not so much to others, and that was that the advantages and influences of data science can extend into any industry. From business, to social work, to education, to healthcare, data science can find a way to improve our understanding of any field.

More important than the numbers, however, is the fact that behind every data point, integer, and graph, is a human being. The human beings behind our data inspire our use of numbers and their deep understanding to develop axiomatically correct solutions for real world problems. The researchers presented data that told us how we might better understand emotional sentiment in developing countries, or make decisions on cancer treatments, or help children reach their boundless potential. For me, this is what data science is all about--how the appreciation of mathematics can help us improve the lives of human beings.

Missed the Meetup? You can review the audio files from the event here and access the slide deck here.