Monday, September 5, 2011

Mobile apps make it easier to go green

Monday, September 5, 2011

Want to figure out how to get more-efficient energy usage from your household light bulbs? Care to track your driving skills and see how to be more fuel efficient?

  • Dara O'Rourke, co-founder of the Good Guide app, a website for seeking out green products.

    By Martin E. Klimek, for USA TODAY

    Dara O'Rourke, co-founder of the Good Guide app, a website for seeking out green products.

By Martin E. Klimek, for USA TODAY

Dara O'Rourke, co-founder of the Good Guide app, a website for seeking out green products.

There's an app not just for that, but for all things green.

The Apple App Store and the Android Market list many apps to conserve energy and find ways to go green. Many are either free or $1 or $2. They're not as hugely successful as games or entertainment trivia, but then neither is the green movement. The array of green software applications is growing — and helping raise awareness about things all of us can do to be more environmentally friendly and responsible.

A good place to start: The Green Genie app will show you 100 different ways to go green, from bringing your own bag to the grocery store to ways to get paid for reducing your emissions.

"This is an app that pays for itself," says Green Genie creator Brad Cracchiola, who made the app in his spare time. By day, he's a sustainability engineer in Los Angeles at BMW Group DesignworksUSA. "Apply just one strategy, and you've paid for the app 10 times."

Cracchiola has tried to add game elements to the app, to make learning fun. "Consuming information can be an overwhelming topic," he says. "Making it fun makes it easier to digest."

Smartphones are great tools for learning, in part because of their mobility. "It doesn't matter where you're at, as long as you have a cell connection, you always have access to the information," says Provo, Utah-based Nate Younger. He is the co-creator of the Green Fuel app, which helps find alternative fuel sources for those driving non-traditional cars. "The iPhone knows your position."

(Green Fuel is only for the iPhone. A similar app for Android is the $2.99 Green-Driver: Alternative Fuel.)

The Green Fuel app locates such non-traditional vehicle fuels as compressed natural gas, bio-diesel and liquid petroleum. Younger, who works as a software engineer, says he got a call one day from a stranded motorist in the Long Beach area, who didn't have the app but found him anyway.

"He was down to th of a tank, and he didn't know how he was going to make it home," he says. They looked up the info, relayed it to him, and the motorist not only found his way home — he went and bought the app.

"We made the app after browsing the iTunes Store," partner Eric Nelson says. "We didn't see anything focused on alternative fuels."

Some 2,000 copies of the app have sold. "It's a small market, but there's a need, and it will grow," Nelson says.

Tracking energy consumption

Mark Barton's MeterRead app is a simple tool to read your electricity meter and monitor your energy consumption. "People will save energy if they can track it," he says.

Barton, who has sold 10,000 copies of his app, saw savings of $50 monthly once he started monitoring his own meter.

He makes use of the internal clock in the iPhone. Open the app, and it gives you a choice of five possible meters. Pick yours, hit "record," then start reading the meter on your iPhone over the next few days. The app shows how to use less energy.

"Anything that's out there that can help you save energy is a good thing and can make a deep impact," Barton says.

Adam Borut, a Milwaukee engineer, has seen 11,000 downloads for his Light Bulb Finder app for iPhone and Android, which shows consumers how to switch to energy-efficient bulbs.

"There's a lot of consumer confusion and concern about how to switch," he says. With the app, you open it up and compare your bulb to pictures and descriptions of greener bulbs.

If you can't find the bulb at your neighborhood store, Borut will sell it to you, via the app.

"People have limited time and resources," he says. "Mobile devices can turn people into instant experts and make the experience fun and fast."

While the same information is available on their computer, it is hard to walk around with a laptop and stand in front of all your fixtures, Borut notes.

Other notable green technology apps:

Green Outlet ($2.99) predicts your monthly electric bill based on your use of appliances. For iPhone and Android.

Green Gas Saver (free) tracks driving habits and shows you how to save gas. For iPhone.

Find Green (free) showcases local green businesses, from local food to landscapers and wellness, and how to get there by foot or car. For Android and iPhone.

Green Me ($1.99) offers the ability to make lists of what green things you've done for the day. The calendar goes greener as you go deeper. For iPhone.

Green Charging (99 cents) vibrates the phone when it's fully charged — trying to train you to pull it out of the charger and stop using energy. For iPhone.

Get me Green (99 cents) provides tips for recycling and reusing items at home. For iPhone.

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