Climate Corps 2011: A Facebook Hackathon Dedicated to Energy Efficiency

It's 9:45 pm on a Tuesday, and I'm hunched over a laptop at a desk that isn't mine, while two men clip wires to an electrical panel and onlookers crane their heads expectantly. Techno music blares from just around the corner, courtesy of a mustachioed DJ wearing a cape. Someone asks, "Did you set the CT amp rating?" Someone else announces, "I'm going to go stare down the espresso machine."

This is not your typical day (or night) at the office. We're at Facebook's Palo Alto headquarters, and this is a Hackathon.

Our charge as EDF Climate Corps fellows is to make the business case for energy efficiency in the context of each company's unique culture. We need to know the terminology that resonates with different decision-makers and understand how environmental responsibility aligns with the company's core mission.

So on this Tuesday night, I'm here not only for the literal task at hand -- getting a data-logging power meter up and running -- but to understand a bit more of what Facebook is really about and what its own particular brand of energy management might look like.

Here are some lessons I've absorbed from a late night at Facebook:

Do it yourself. To establish a baseline for the energy consumed by pluggable devices (computers, appliances, and so on), we need a plug load audit. I'm researching energy auditing services when we catch wind of a rumor: A Hackathon is coming up!

When one of these events is announced at Facebook, people put aside their "real" work and stay late, sometimes all night, to turn cool new ideas into functioning prototypes. So we throw together our own Facilities/Green/Climate Corps Hackathon team. We gather as much metering equipment as we can and draw up worksheets for recording data.

After dinner we dispatch a small army of volunteers to comb the buildings with Kill A Watt meters to measure the wattage of coffeemakers, conference room screens, computer monitors, beverage coolers, anything they can find with a plug. The chief building engineer helps us hook up some ELITEpro meters directly to circuits on electrical panels so we can monitor the energy use of whole departments over time.