Adjunct engineering science professor Stephen Makonin uses algorithms and other computational methods to find ways to help consumers more easily incorporate sustainability into their daily lives.

Computational Sustainability Lab tackles socio-economic barriers to mitigating climate change

October 23, 2017

By Diane Luckow, SFU News

Would you use your appliances more sustainably if you had an inexpensive way to monitor consumption?

Researchers in SFU’s new Computational Sustainability Lab (CSL) are developing practical, accessible, sustainability tools that all consumers can use to incorporate sustainability into their daily lives.

Adjunct engineering science professor Stephen Makonin says his laboratory team’s research projects address some of the socio-economic issues that can prevent many consumers from using new, green technologies to help address climate change.

For example, he says, “requiring people to buy expensive sensors to monitor appliance energy use is an adoption barrier, and sets up an economic divide where only those with money can participate in energy conservation activities.”

So, his team is developing algorithms that can be incorporated into tools that will help consumers understand their appliances’ consumption patterns, without buying expensive sensors.

Makonin calls this approach computational sustainability.

“We’re trying to balance the needs of the environment, the economy, and society by solving sustainability problems using computational methods such as algorithms.”

In their lab work related to appliance energy consumption, the researchers are using ‘living labs’ to gain insight into how appliances in different homes are consuming energy. Then, they create algorithms to understand these consumption patterns without the need to buy and install sensors, a difficult challenge called “disaggregation.”

The researchers are also anonymizing the data they collect and then publishing public-access databases so that other researchers around the world can advance their research.

“If everyone had disaggregated appliance information, they could understand how they consume energy, then begin to conserve it,” says Makonin.

“With everyone doing a little conservation, the sum is a great impact towards mitigating climate change and meeting our Paris Climate Agreement commitment to cut carbon emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.”