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Do you ever wonder what happens when you turn on a light switch? Sure, the light turns on; but, where is that energy coming from? 

WattTime, 2018 laureate of the Keeling Curve Prize, started by asking this simple question. Electricity can ultimately come from many different places: hydro, nuclear, solar, coal, and wind are all examples of energy sources that can supply an electric grid. Unlike energy derived from fossil fuels like coal, solar and wind energy do not produce carbon dioxide that ends up in our atmosphere, contributing to global warming. But, when you flip your light switch, it’s hard to know exactly where your energy is coming from. 

What if you could choose to power your devices with renewable energy? That’s the choice that WattTime is providing consumers. 

WattTime, a unique environmental tech nonprofit, won the Keeling Curve Prize in 2018 for their mission to offer technology solutions that make it easy for anyone to achieve emissions reductions without compromising cost, comfort, and function.

Nest in a home

Empowerment through choice

Flipping a light switch at home demands energy from the grid. Because the majority of our energy is produced from fossil fuels, you’re likely demanding more power production from a fossil fuel energy source, like coal. Peter Bronski, manager of WattTime’s communications, explains, “Gavin McCormick and the other founders of WattTime found it absurd that, in essence, you could be forced to pollute. You’d have no way of knowing when you flip that switch how clean or dirty it is with very little control. So, they started with the premise of choice.” With the increasing prevalence of renewable energy, there are increasing opportunities to power our lives with clean, emissions-free electricity. 

One of WattTime’s solutions called “Automated Emissions Reduction” integrates with smart devices to automatically shift energy use to times when more renewable energy is available through the grid, like when there’s a surplus of solar or wind energy. This integration empowers individuals, organizations and governments to make a choice about where their energy comes from, with a “set-it-and-forget-it simplicity”. Bronski explains, “There are now ways for an individual to make a choice. WattTime’s partnership with Google’s Nest is a great example of this. In the near future, when a person buys a Google Nest, they will be able to make a decision to align their energy usage with green sources on the grid.”

Location, location, location​

Another component of WattTime’s mission to achieve emissions reductions is a term called “emissionality”. Beyond considering how the time of day affects the grid, emissionality considers the impact of renewable energy source location on the grid holistically. To explain further, in certain parts of the country, building new renewable energy sources would displace other renewable energy sources - having little impact on overall emissions reduction. However, building renewable energy in strategic locations could displace potential sites for fossil fuel plants - having a much greater effect on the impacts of climate change. 
Bronski explains “Up until recently, we’ve largely treated all renewable energy as equally good. It turns out, with the urgency of the climate crisis, we need to think smarter about where we build renewables. Does north Texas need another wind farm? Or, should we build a solar farm in coal country to displace more fossil fuel generation from the grid? That’s the principle behind emissionality.” WattTime’s analysis can help partners identify which solar and wind projects can achieve the greatest emissions reductions

Tracking emissions…from space

WattTime’s current third large endeavor is the Climate TRACE coalition, which WattTime co-founded with Vice President Al Gore and other organizations. Using tools including satellite data, machine learning, remote sensing, and software intelligence, Climate TRACE tracks emissions from human activities worldwide in real-time and shares that data.

Quotation marks

“The prize’s prestige has strengthened our founder’s reputation and elevated the WattTime brand to be exposed to more people. The prize is this platform for them to be working with the world.” 

Peter Bronski, manager of WattTime’s communications

Peter Bronski, manager of WattTime’s communications

Bronski shared that winning the prize helped further WattTime’s mission through enhanced credibility and amplification. “The prize’s prestige has strengthened our founder’s reputation and elevated the WattTime brand to be exposed to more people. The prize is this platform for them to be working with the world.” 

The prize also allowed WattTime to investigate beyond their Automated Emissions Reduction idea. “They started with this idea of timing, but it turns out there was also this huge impact opportunity with emissionality. The Keeling Curve Prize gave them the support and flexibility to look at other opportunities and options and pursue them.” 

The Future of WattTime

In recognition of the severity of climate change and the need to transition to clean energy sources, many power grids all over the world are starting to make the move away from fossil fuels. This collective transition is the perfect opportunity for WattTime’s solution to ensure that the placement of renewables has a real impact on emissions. “The intersection of their evolution as an organization and what the world needs is happening”, Bronski shares. 

WattTime is committed to leading the way in their innovative approach to solving climate change and reimagining what technology innovators look like. According to Bronski, “WattTime is focused on open-source and collaborative innovation. That’s really the way forward to solving the climate crisis.”

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