Flows of energy and materials throughout the economy are complex, interdependent, geographically variable, and divisible in many ways, sometimes counterintuitively. Furthermore, the U.S. economy is not a closed system: energy, materials, and the energy embedded in those materials are imported and exported. The size and complexity of our energy system makes it difficult to identify and determine the magnitude of opportunities for improvement. Better tools to spot and quantify these opportunities should enable innovators to more effectively develop new technologies for the greatest impact on energy savings. Sankey diagrams, like the ones produced by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, are widely-used intuitive visualizations of U.S. energy flow data, but the low data resolution currently available conveys no information on specific regions, industries, materials, or consumer behaviors; improving the resolution and enabling scenario modelling will therefore help pinpoint specific challenges and potential opportunities for targeting innovation.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
Otherlab will develop an open-source tool to enable higher resolution investigation and visualization of energy flows throughout the country. The core visual component is an interactive Sankey diagram with an intuitive interface that will allow users to examine the flows of energy and materials by industry, region, and economic sector. Behind the visualizations, sophisticated algorithms will aggregate and reconcile data from a wide variety of publically available sources in various formats to present an integrated view of energy and material imports, exports, and flows in the U.S. economy. The project’s aim is to characterize these flows to an unprecedented resolution of 0.1% of the U.S. energy economy. The tool will incorporate both the specificity and comprehensiveness necessary to aid decision makers across the energy industry in identifying opportunities and planning energy research and technology development. By maintaining the tool in an open-source format, developers from across the country can assist in providing additional input on data sources, processing algorithms, and visualizations to improve accuracy and usability. Producing the open-source visualization tool will require three interdependent tasks. First, energy data will be collected, verified, and prepared for use. Next, the team will conduct user interface work and usability studies to ensure that the output reaches the broadest audience in the most useful manner. Finally, the team will pursue its final implementation as a web-based tool.