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How many apps does it take to change a light bulb?
Apps can't actually do that yet: you still have to climb on a chair and balance precariously while holding a handful of glass. However, the winner of best overall app in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Apps for the Environment Challenge can help you choose the best and most efficient replacement option for incandescent bulbs.
In addition to selecting the bulb, Eco-Hatchery's app, called Light Bulb Finder, calculates projected energy savings and carbon dioxide emission reductions as well as cost savings and payback time based on local electrical rates. It also allows users to buy the bulbs online or email a shopping list--and it even includes discounts from local utility and government programs.
Using the app is easy. Thanks to a borrowed iPhone, I was able to select a replacement bulb for my living room in less than two minutes. This is definitely less time than I would have spent staring blankly at the light bulb aisle at Home Depot. Had I gone through with the transaction, UPS would have delivered the bulb to my doorstep in 10–14 days.
The app makes its judgment based on inputs from the user about the light bulb being replaced. These inputs include type of light fixture, style and diameter of the base of the current bulb, whether or not a dimmer will be used, current bulb wattage, number of hours the light is used per day, and the location of the light (e.g., kitchen, bedroom, bathroom).
The app challenge is geared toward putting the reams of environmental data collected by EPA to good use. EPA makes the data and other resources available for free to app developers for this purpose. Thirty-eight apps competed in the challenge, and the makers of the winning apps were invited to Washington to present their creations to EPA experts and managers.
The runner-up for best overall app was Hootroot, a Web-based app that allows users to enter an itinerary and compare the carbon footprint and travel time of different forms of transportation. For instance, a trip from Boston to Washington, D.C., by car will release 478 lbs of CO2 and take about 8 hours and 11 minutes. A similar trip via public transit--the train in this case--takes 25 minutes less and results in only 32.12 pounds of CO2 emissions.
The competition also featured apps developed by students. EarthFriend, the best overall student app, uses EPA's databases to create a series of games and fun facts around five categories: Climate, Water Pollution, Air Pollution, Land Pollution, and What Can You Do?
The runner-up for best student app uses EPA data to promote environmental justice. This Web-based participatory mapping tool allows users to locate active and abandoned uranium mines on or near the Navajo and Hopi reservations in northeastern Arizona. Other layers include water sources and coal-fired power plants. Users with GPS devices can record the locations of unlisted sites and add them to the map. There are more than 500 abandoned uranium mines in the region.
The Peoples' Choice award went to an app for mobile devices called CG Search, which provides users with graphs and city-to-city comparisons of air quality index scores, air pollutant levels, and energy consumption for various cities in the U.S.
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