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How energy and information add up

by Ethan Goldman, Energy Informatics Architect

For most people, answering the question “What do you do for work?” is pretty straightforward. In my case, the title “Energy Informatics Architect” does not exactly resonate with most people. Or, for that matter, with ANYONE outside my very specialized field

That’s why, instead of telling people WHAT I do, I like to tell the story of WHY I do what I do. 

My feedback loop

For me, the closing years of college generated a lot of questions. I was torn between two disciplines, and unsure of what direction to take upon graduation. I had pursued a double major – in Green Design and Computer Science – and I had no idea how to focus my research thesis, or what questions I most wanted to answer. 

It was during this time that I met Dana Meadows: a friend, mentor, and an inspiration. 

One day, Dana invited me to visit her home to discuss my work. She baked a loaf of bread as I sat at her kitchen table drinking tea and we talked about her life’s work to promote sustainability, and advocate for systems-based approaches to addressing climate change.

Then she made an observation that would forever change the course of my research, and my life.

Energy + information = power

“Why,” she asked, “Is my car so much more advanced than my home?” She noted that her car, a basic hybrid model, could tell her exactly how efficiently it was operating at any given moment. After only a few months of driving it, she had already begun to unconsciously rely on this information and used it to adjust her driving techniques – changing bad habits that she had been unaware of. As a consequence, she could extend the range of a tank of gas far beyond what the mpg rating would predict. 

“We humans are smart enough to have created complex systems and amazing productivity; surely we are also smart enough to make sure that everyone shares our bounty, and surely we are smart enough to sustainably steward the natural world upon which we all depend.”
Dr. Donella H. Meadows

Dana had worked very hard to reduce waste, and tighten up her home, she said. But the results of all of that work often seemed invisible. She could feel the results, but she had no way to monitor how her home used energy from one day to the next – and if a problem arose she might not see it until her monthly utility bills arrived. Information truly is power, she concluded; it gives us the ability to fully understand our impact on the planet – and it enables us to set goals adjust our actions accordingly.

I've built my career on that simple premise by working with Vermont businesses and homes to measure and analyze their energy usage patterns. In doing so, I empower them to meet the economic and environmental goals they set for themselves. And that, in short, is why I love my job.


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