Play the game, make it rain: Energy-saving project launches new incentive

An online game launched last week could help the people of Fargo save millions in energy conservation, according to NDSU professor Malini Srivastava.

efargoteam

Photo by Dan Koeck

Srivastava is leading a project called efargo, a partnership between the City of Fargo, NDSU, Cass County Electric Coop and Xcel Energy, with a goal of cutting Fargo’s overall energy use by five percent.

efargo was formed to enter Fargo into the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a two-year competition in which fifty cities across the United States compete to reduce energy usage for a grand prize of $5 million.

The project launched in January 2015, and since then is on track to meet their goals, Srivastava said. Based on the three (out of four) quarters of data Georgetown has crunched so far, Fargo has saved about $3.2 million and several thousand kilograms of carbon due to lower energy usage.

This is without correction for weather or city growth (which, in Fargo, is very high, Srivastava said.) As the numbers currently stand, Fargo is in fourth place out of the 50 competing cities in the semi-finals, Srivastava said.

Screenshot 2016-02-29 16.47.21

Defeat Waste-A-Watt, win $50 bucks

Now, she and her team hope to boost their results even further by launching an online game.

The game, which is fittingly titled “the efargo game,” features an enemy also fittingly named “Waste-A-Watt.” In order to defeat Waste-A-Watt and advance to the next levels, the user is required to complete certain tasks, such as change a lightbulb in your house to LED or post something on social media.

“The game essentially engages various media – you talking to friends, via social media, phone, asking at your home, or you becoming an activist in the city,” Srivastava said. “There’s different ideas and levels and points to collect for different action items.”

efargo

The game also provides valuable data for Srivastava and her team, she said. They measure energy usage levels per Census blocks. There are 71 in Fargo, each comprised of around 700 to 1,000 people, Srivastava said.

Gamers input which Census block they are playing the game from and Srivastava can track how that impacts energy levels in that area. (Although anyone can play the game, they are only tracking Fargo, she said.)

This will determine who gets the prizes as well. Yes, there are prizes.

Thanks to a grant Srivastava received from the North Dakota Department of Commerce, efargo is able to offer weekly gift certificates as prizes. Cass County Electric will award a weekly $50 gift card as well.

Winners are chosen at random from the blocks that have done the best at conserving energy that week, Srivastava said.

“It’s in your interest to make your block good, because it makes it eligible,” she said.

A grand prize winner will be chosen at the end of the Georgetown competition in 2017. What that prize will be is still in the works, although Srivastava said it will be “something that will make that person efficient for a long time to come.” Think solar panels, a heat pump, etc.

“It adds up.”

efargo

Srivastava, launching efargo at the Fargo Theater.

Srivastava, in addition to leading efargo, is also an assistant professor of architecture at NDSU, a 2014-2015 Fellow with the Archibald Bush Foundation, principal of a design and energy lab called dandelab, and earning her doctoral candidate at Carnegie Mellon University.

She was driven to lead efargo after her love for architecture revealed the responsibility of creating buildings that use energy efficiently. It’s a passion that drives her forward, through her hectic schedule, and it’s the reason why she designed a game that she “has no idea if it will work or not.”

The success of the game relies on the active community of Fargo, she said. She poses the question: “Could we use the power of community to solve a problem that is not just about our community, but really a global problem?”

“Everybody in their own small way can help,” she said. “If everybody does a little bit, it adds up. As a city we end up avoiding X number of carbon kilos, avoid using tons of energy, gas, electricity, and we help the environment.”

“The whole thing is about getting the community energized,” Srivastava added.

Energized to use less energy, that is.

Learn more

Srivastava has been invited to speak about the game at the Department of Energy Summit at Washington D.C. On May 10, 2016. Only 2-4 cities were invited to be represented, she said.

But first, she’ll share about it this Wednesday at 1 Million Cups Fargo, 9:15 AM at the Stage at Island Park. Don’t miss it!

Play the game here!

Game developed by Malini Srivastava, Peter Atwood, Nick Braaksma, Troy Raisanen, Ian Schimke, and Nate Wallestad.

Learn more about efargo here: http://www.efargo.org/

Photos courtesy of efargo and Malini Srivastava.

Marisa Jackels

Marisa Jackels

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