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Developers tackle solar energy issues with code at Oakland’s Cleanweb Hackathon

on June 12, 2012

Software developers and web designers from allover the country met in Oakland Friday through Sunday for 48 hours of non-stop competitive design and programming to develop applications that could solve some of the most crucial challenges in the adoption and utilization of solar energy.

Powered by pizza and energy drinks, the Cleanweb Hackathon was hosted by Oakland-based solar web startup Sungevity Solar Home Specialists. It attracted 50 developers and designers who built five applications over the course of the weekend.  

“It was a great event,” said Sungevity’s brand management specialist Wyatt Roy. “We had developers come from as far as Boston to develop web and mobile applications.”

Roy said the hackathon gave awards to applications in three categories, beginning with the Best Overall Application, which won a $2,000 cash prize, and for the Best Technical Application and the Best User Experience, both of which were awarded $1,000 cash prizes.

“A lot of the teams that came were working on programs and applications that they had been working on for a long time,” Roy said. For example, he said, one of the teams called Power Hive “identified this problem in African communities where unforeseen bad weather conditions inhibit the generation of solar energy, leaving people without power, and they used the hackathon weekend as an opportunity to develop new application to respond to that problem.”

Power Hive ultimately created a predictive service that encourages users to conserve energy in the event of impending bad weather conditions that may limit solar power generation. Designed by Christ Hornor, Steve Hermes, Inga Chen, Henry Wang and Neil Basu, Roy said Power Hive’s service would be useful in some developing countries, where the adoption of solar energy has not been matched with the proliferation of other technologies allowing people to access timely weather information.

“When overcast skies or precipitation are predicted, Power Hive’s system recognizes that individual households must conserve energy and sends an SMS detailing the specific steps that must be taken so that energy stored in the battery reserves lasts through the bad weather,” he said.

The hackathon ended Sunday night, and the winning application was created by a group of four developers. Collectively known as Sunride, Mark Rosetti, Matt Solt, Zac Bowling and Tylor Tringas developed an application called Sunride Analytics, which generates a customized report showing the financial benefit of pairing a solar carport with an electrical vehicle.

Sunride’s application, which runs on iOS tablets, could be used by car dealerships to sell electric vehicles and solar carports as a single package.

“There’s great technology now available in solar and electric vehicles that’s both and environmentally and economically beneficial to everyone,” said Mark Rossetti, one of the Sunride developers. “But what’s needed is an easy way to show the average consumer just what a great deal these technologies can be for them.”

Rossetti said Sunride Analytics was built on data resources that members of the Sunride team, Tyler Tringas and Matt Solt had built through a solar start-up they co-founded, SolarList. “There’s a ton of inexpensive data in the solar industry, but the organization and presentation of that data is a priceless service, and that’s where we bring value,” Rossetti said.

Sunride walked away with the $2,000 prize, followed by a group named Kijani Grows Solar, which clinched the Best Technical Application prize for designing a web application that allows users to control their energy consumption in real time. Kijani’s application visualizes how much energy each household appliance is using, allowing users to turn appliances off remotely.

Created by developers Eric Maundu, Windsor Schmidt, Ian Johnson and Andrew Valish, Kijani’s application also allows users to see how much energy their solar units are producing and how much their homes are using, thereby making it easier for users to only use what they produce.   

Roy said the reason Sungevity hosted the hackathon was not only to get developers together, but to get more creative people thinking about solar and coming up with creative solutions. “We are a mission-based organization,” Roy said. “ Many of the applications don’t really match up with our business model, but it’s always great to get in contact with a group of people like these developers.”

Image: Programmers and developers work on their applications on the balcony of solar start-up Sungevity’s offices at Jack London Square, Oakland. Photo courtesy Wyatt Roy, Sungevity. 


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