Nº 7 2012 > Sustainable energy for all
Interview with Andreas Kamilaris, winner of the 2012 ITU Green ICT Application Challenge
The winner of the ITU Green ICT Application Challenge is Andreas Kamilaris, a PhD student in the Networks Research Laboratory of the Computer Science Department, University of Cyprus. ITU News asked him about his winning application.
Andreas, you have just won the ITU Green ICT Application Challenge. How did you find out about this competition?
I found out about it accidentally. I generally carry out research on initiatives concerning energy awareness and conservation, and while I was searching the Internet I saw the ITU Green ICT Application Challenge. I really liked this initiative, and decided to participate.
Your application is called “Social Electricity”. Why did you choose this name?
Because it reflects exactly what the application is about. It is an application that puts electricity consumption data into a social context. You share your electrical consumption with your friends, family and neighbourhood. Through this social comparison, you become more aware of your electricity footprint. This is the first step towards taking the necessary measures to reduce consumption, especially if the comparison shows that you consume above average or excessive amounts of energy.
How does the application work?
It is a Facebook application — through Facebook people can compare their electricity consumption with that of their online friends. We aggregated data on the domestic electricity consumption of all the 300 000 or so houses in Cyprus, so if people tell us where they live, we can provide them with statistics on electricity consumed in their neighbourhoods. Users can also view statistics showing which areas consume the least or the most energy, by neighbourhood, province or even for the whole of Cyprus. The idea is that people can compete with their friends to save energy. And by doing so, also save money and preserve the environment.
What inspired you to develop this app?
In our Department of Computer Science at the University of Cyprus, our main focus is to combine environmental information from sensors with web technologies. This is a concept of the “Web of Things”. It is a way to exploit the expanding ecosystem of web-enabled sensor devices in order to protect the environment and improve people’s quality of life. So this application is part of our more general research. If we consider the electricity meters in houses to be sensor devices, then the app is just a combination of sensor technology and web technologies to solve an important problem in Cyprus — namely energy conservation. People get an electricity bill once a month, but it is not easy for them to see their electricity footprint. This social application enables people to understand the scale of their electricity consumption.
How long have you been working on the app?
For the past two years, I and a team of two undergraduate students (Diomidis Papadiomidous, George Taliadoros and Marios Michael) have been designing, building and developing this application. It took hours of work and we faced lots of problems. Our major concern — and that of the Electricity Authority of Cyprus — was to respect the privacy of Cypriot citizens. To respect this requirement, we have made sure that the data are anonymous. We also aggregate the data at street or neighbourhood level, as an added safeguard to ensure the anonymity of consumers.
What are the financial implications of developing such an app?
We did not have any funding, so we developed the app as part of our studies — a PhD thesis in my case and a bachelor thesis in the case of my team. We saw the potential of this application to help save energy in Cyprus. The importance of saving energy became apparent on 11 July 2011 when a great explosion caused some of our country’s electricity infrastructure to malfunction.
When did you launch the app?
We started deploying the app throughout Cyprus on 1 August 2012. It was picked up enthusiastically by the country’s media, and we got a lot of encouragement from Cypriot citizens. Barely a month after its deployment, the app already had more than 500 users.
How do you see the future of this app?
I hope that all Cypriots will soon be using this application to compare their electrical consumption, and to become more informed and aware about their electricity footprint. In three to six months’ time, our goal is to have a general tool for everyone, regardless of whether or not they have a Facebook account. The tool will be available through the online portal of the Electricity Authority of Cyprus, and it will allow people (even those without a Facebook account) to obtain information about the electricity consumption in their street or in their neighbourhood. The portal will also provide access to more general energy and environmental statistics for Cyprus.
Are you involved in other ways to help fight climate change and promote environmental sustainability in Cyprus?
Our research is driven by fighting climate change, and the application is only a small part of it. In the Networks Research Laboratory where I work, we are trying to incorporate sensor technology into everyday life. The aim is to reduce power consumption, improve people’s quality of life, and protect the environment. For example, we are working on ICT applications for urban environments to help people avoid polluted areas or areas with high electromagnetism — to reduce the risk of illness. We recently completed a study about energy competitions in blocks of flats. People compete for a month, say, to see which flat can save the most energy. We found that when these competitions are entertaining and social, they help to get people more actively involved. Our results show that people become engaged in saving energy when they are socially motivated.
There were many contenders for this prize — how does it feel to have won?
When we got the good news, we were really happy. We worked hard for two years to get this project off the ground, but we didn’t really expect to win an international competition run by an organization such as ITU. Now that we have won, we feel obliged to make the application perfect, not only for the benefit of Cypriots, but also for any country that wants to take a similar approach to help people become more aware about saving energy and money by saving the environment.
What message would you like to send to policy-makers?
By 2020, all countries in the European Union are expected to deploy smart meters in homes, to enable real-time monitoring of energy consumption. Applications like “Social Electricity” that promote the sharing of data on power consumption could help people conserve energy more effectively. Also, energy competitions could be developed not only to help people save energy, but also to engage them in energy conservation initiatives. The future in energy-saving initiatives is definitely social, and policy-makers need to consider this parameter very seriously.