In early July, GreenBiz Group put out a call to our audiences asking:

"What challenges we should be looking to address at Hack City?"
We received a number of thoughtful and thought provoking submissions. We elected to pay close attention to submission that particular attention to Resilient Cities. Below, please find a handful of the challenges posed toward that end.

Get familiar with the challenges now, so that you're ready to dive right in on Friday!

Sustainable Mobility

Traffic congestion cost Americans 5.5 billion hours of extra time, 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel, $121 billion in delay and wasted fuel costs and 56 billion additional pounds of CO2 emissions. Imagine all that we'd gain by avoiding such profound and unnecessary waste.

"The crux of the problem, notes RAND Corporation in its report 'Moving Los Angeles," is "an imbalance between the supply of road capacity and the demand for driving during peak travel hours."

What if decentralization -- through distributed generation of electricity and intelligently designed smart growth -- reduced congestion by addressing its root cause? In places where development is not imminent efforts around "clustering compact diversity -- home, work, play, shopping -- to meet needs" OR "avoid, shift and improve" are less realistic in the short term. "If we're to solve such problems, however, we must be willing to take bold steps in that direction, recapturing our time, our money, our environment and more in the process."

  • Many people who work in San Francisco commute from the East Bay alone
  • The volume of single drivers creates a lot of traffic
  • Roads are over-taxed with the volume of travelers, and all travelers suffer
  • When the BART system is down (or on strike - Summer 2013) these issues are exacerbated
  • In the event of an emergency, system blockages such as this can prove very dangerous and costly
  • SF Employers - re: looking to achieve compliance>
  • Daily Commuters - re: Quality of life
    • Single Occupancy Drivers
    • Potential Carpoolers
  • Traffic Planners
  • Business Owners
Leverage Technology

  • Create a Mobile App Version of 511 carpool
  • Create Simplified User interface for 511 Car/Vanpool Service
  • Devise a "Non-Casual" Carpool, on-demand + monetary incentive via reduced costs
Technology Platform
  • Mobile App
  • Responsive Web
  • Mobile SMS
  • Other: Social Networking
Data Sources Key Performance Indicators A successful app will meet one or many of the following objectives:
  • Demonstrate quantitative reductions in the number of SOVs traveling between the East Bay and San Francisco
  • Reduce the amount of time commuters spend in gridlock
  • Increase the adoption of 511 or other carpool-centric strategies for peak commute hours
  • Help SF companies whose employees use such a system report it to the DOE
  • SF Dept. of Environment (SF DOE) Goal: help reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050
Challenge Experts

Food, Energy, Water Nexus

Building owners who sublease commercial and residential space must figure out how to distribute the cost of water used by tenants. Each building owner handles this situation differently - some take on the responsibility of paying the bill for water (perhaps passing off some of that in the included rent charged to the tenant) or they distribute the cost of water by dividing the cost of the building's overall water use between the number of tenants - and/or by occupany. Water utilities only keep data on building use, so without sub-metering each unit, there is no way to provide an accurate accounting of the tenants use, nor offer direct incentives to use less.

  • an inability to for the tenant to measure their actual water consumption rate
  • the building owner's inability to give tenants an accurate accounting of their water use without implementing costly retrofits to install a submeter to each apartment unit
  • a water utility's inability to incentivize end users to use less due to lack of submetering or a standardized benchmarkig program
  • SF Bay area residents who would like to find ways to reduce their monthly expenses from lower water bills, or bills that reflect their actual water use
  • SF Bay area building owners (residential and commercial) interested in programs that help reudce their building's water bill and/or incentives from water utilities willing to front the cost of retrofitting their building with new mroe efficient hardwares
  • SF Bay Area Water Utilities that are promoting water conservation in their districts AND interested in working with building owners, as well as end user (tenants) to create incentive programs that will create solutions
Leverage Technology
  • Create at platforms to allow a water utility to benchmark what actual use per building (this data is available) + forecast what is average use per building, per tenant, and per occupant.
  • Create a platforms to allow building owners to see where their building lands among other buildings add information about the types of fixtures used at their building location (including the brand and flow levels).
  • Create a platforms to allow tenants to see what the average water use expected per tenant (according to the SFPUC), and provide tools for the tenant to assess their actual used against forecasted averages.
Technology Platform
  • Mobile App
  • Responsive Web
  • Other: Social Networks
Data Sources
  • Automated Water Meter Program Overview (March 19, 2013) -
  • SFPUC Readings on use per building
    • Existing Data (Manual Reads): Mada available via an API produced by the SFPUC - (Available?)
    • Automated Data: Made available via an API produced by the SFPUC water metering platform
  • EBMUD Readings on use per building
    • Existing Data (Manual Reads): Mada available via an API produced by the SFPUC - (Available?)
    • Automated Data: Doesn't currently exist, but would subsequently be made available via an API produced by the SFPUC water metering platform
Key Performance Indicators Successful projects will:
  • provide transparent data access to target populations
  • allow the water utility a transparent communication portal to promote incentive programs to building owners and their sub-tenants
  • serve a tranparent portal for building owners to communicate both with water utilities about incentive programs, and with tenants important information about the amount of water their fixtures release (based on standard measurement e.g. 2.5 gallons per flush)
  • offer the tenant meaningful information about their actual use, let them add detail about themselves to better tailor information from water utilities and identify opportunities for cost and energy savings
Challenge Experts
  • Tyrone Jue - San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) - [email protected]
  • Heather Pohl - Automated Water Meter Project Manager - [email protected]
  • SF Mayor + Board of Supervisors
  • East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD)

Next Gen Buildings

Commercial buildings in the US account for 40% of all energy use and about 40% of GHG emissions. On average, commercial buildings could save 30% of their energy costs, or about $100 Billion annually. In terms of investment return, standard retrofit projects have typical IRR of 25% or more, i.e. higher year-on-year return than any other asset class commonly held in pension funds, including equities (large, mid and small cap), venture capital or real estate. Cities need to come together to provide a standardized, reliable, and scalable solution to energy efficiency financing.


In spite of very attractive ROIs, energy retrofits suffer from a general lack of confidence on the part of investors and building owners, high transaction costs, and the need for available upfront capital. As a result, this GHG mitigation and energy savings opportunity remains largely untapped.

  • Finance community (lenders, equity invests, pension funds and insurance companies).
  • Municipalities
  • Building owners and facility managers
  • Contractors (EPC, ESPs and ESCOs)
Leverage Technology

There's a crying need for an online platform to facilitate the financing of energy efficiency project. The technology needs to standardize the technical underwriting of the energy retrofit projects, evaluate the performance risk and slash the transaction costs involved in developing reliable energy projects. Such an online market place would provide an easy to use facility for building owners to evaluate their options for financing energy retrofit projects, whether under PACE, ESA or On-Bill-Repayment financing models. It would also provide deal flow for investors to start getting excited by this new asset class.

Technology Platform
  • Responsive Web
Data Sources Key Performance Indicators

KPIs to measure success of an energy efficiency market place:
  • Number of projects submitted for financing through the exchange.
  • Number of projects financed in terms of $$ and Square Footage.
  • Amount of kWh saved and avoided GHG emissions.
Challenge Experts

Potential Advisors to the competition:

Next Gen Buildings

Many public K-12 schools don't have adequate broadband or building automation that would improve student performance and health. Studies show that schools can shave 10-30% of utility bills through operational efficiency. Studies show that poor maintenance is leading to bad air quality in classrooms. We need cloud-accessible, Wifi connected systems that use data and automation that staff and students can leverage to cut ALL (energy, waste, water, telco) utility bills while putting cleaner air and more money into the classroom.


Although much has been made of schools installing solar or doing more recycling to cut utility bills, the lack of automation and data-driven decisions at K-12 schools is abysmal. Studies show that majority of classrooms have CO2 levels higher than legally allowed. Layoffs caused by years of budget cuts mean that maintenance, such as cleaning air ducts and changing filters, isn't happening. Old automation systems are tough to program and thus systems will run continuously and inefficiently. Students -- and many times passionate parents and teachers -- are not enabled to be part of the solution as facilities professionals are the only ones "owning" the problem. There are few connections between curriculum and campus Operational Efficiency. Few schools can afford traditional, high-ticket building control systems. Many schools buildings are being rented out to makeup for budget shortfalls with little understanding of impact as systems run late into the night, on weekends and in summers or just 24/7 because there is no other option.


School districts and communities of under 1000 students or with a higher proportion (over 45%) of students on free and reduced lunches need automation the most. These are also the communities with the lowest percentage of students who have access to broadband and technology. In addition, experts agree that giving low-income and/or rural students greater access to practical, project based learning -- such as being data scientists analyzing their own schools sustainability effectiveness -- creates the best student learning and future opportunities.

Leverage Technology

Low cost sensors that don't require permits or wiring that can measure energy and water use, air quality and other factors are a fraction of the cost of new systems. Cloud-based controls which enable some classroom control (eg. adjust air temp by a few degrees, automatically schedule rooms for "off hour use") and support positive behavior of "human sensors" too (ex. report broken sprinkler heads or leaky faucets). Schools need to expand Wifi for 21st Century Education formulas to work. Sensors and apps need connectivity. Facilities staff are not skilled but they, students (and their parents) could be.

Technology Platform
  • Mobile App
Data Sources Key Performance Indicators

Successful solutions would be as simple as a phone app but allow for a "control console" concept that could aggregate data from sensors for broader trending and decision support. Low-to-no learning curve and initial cost of important. Also needs to be uber low maintenance as it won't be a technical staff maintaining it. And hold off obsolesce as physical changes at schools are costly -- and painful!

Challenge Experts

The folks at Lawrence Berkeley Labs and/or UC Berkeley or UC Davis working on school automation and energy efficiency would be perfect candidates.

Contextual Reading via

  • Taking energy saving out of the dark ages
    • "One of the biggest stumbling blocks to greater efficiency is the difficulty of visualizing energy flows. The amount of power consumed by modern electrical appliances is often hard to grasp and thus conveniently easy to ignore."
  • Elkington: Tech isn't enough to solve sustainability challenges
    • "I worry that people think technology by itself will solve issues," he said. "Investing in technology will pay off over time, but cultural change is an important factor that is under estimated. How you incentivize behavioral change is important."
  • Utilities failing to make use of smart grid big data
    • "...I sat down with Brad Williams, vice president of product strategy for Oracle Utilities. He cites three areas where analytics can make a big difference: operational performance, asset performance and customer performance. Williams says the third area is most often overlooked. He defines it as using data to deliver value directly to customers. One example: providing customized recommendations on how to reduce their bills."
  • How to reap the benefits of grid-connected smart buildings
    • "As we look to the smart technologies available today, there is a significant opportunity for utilities to work with a broader set of customers and engage them in more dynamic and real-time demand management activities. A recurring message heard in our research is that customer awareness and education is a major hurdle to broader participation."
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