On this day two years ago, on a Sunday at 6:15 a.m., the Curry Student Center hit its peak rate of electricity consumption. Four hours later, the Marino Center hit its peak (378 kW). The Mugar Life Sciences Building topped out at 681 kW at 2:45 p.m., and Matthews Arena hit its ceiling 15 minutes later (449 kW).
Individually, these data points may seem mundane. But using two years’ worth of data—2013 and 2014—associate professor Kristian Kloeckl and his students have created two interactive data visualizations that reveal how the bustling activity on campus is fueled by energy consumed by the university’s buildings.
The visualizations are part of an exhibit at Gallery 360, titled “Northeastern Energy Flows,” that opened last month and will be up into the fall semester. The exhibit features computer screens for passersby to stop and interact with—users can select specific days, weeks, and months along the two-year timeline to view—as well as short videos projected on the walls and floor that explain the project.
“The two interactive visualizations enable a broader audience to explore large amounts of systems data on energy consumption and social and environmental factors to foster increasing awareness, understanding, and ultimately better decision-making for the optimization of energy usage,” says Kloeckl, who holds joint appointments in the Department of Art and Design and the Department of Architecture.
They also illustrate the power of Big Data. Cities account for approximately two-thirds of the global demand for energy, and Kloeckl says work with this type of data can contribute to revealing novel insights into human activity in urban spaces. It can also support methods aimed at optimizing how energy systems operate and lowering electricity bills.
The exhibit’s two visualizations
One visualization, titled “City of Peaks,” shows each building’s peak electricity consumption day by day. The buildings—distinguished by color, purple for residential buildings and white for those that house classrooms and offices—spike at the point of the day when they hit their peak electricity consumption.
The second visualization, titled “Data Orchestra,” also features a map of campus buildings, but overlaid on each building is a circular indicator that gets bigger and smaller throughout the day as the building’s energy usage rises and falls. There is also a data score table at the bottom of the interface that is inspired by the score structure of sheet music, and users can also access other information such as a building’s occupancy and climatic conditions.
“These are visual tools for exploration of what is otherwise hard to perceive,” Kloeckl says of the visualizations.
Kloeckl worked with two students on the project. Jeffrey Weng, CIS’19, a combined major in computer science and interactive media, served as the Java and processing developer, and design major Jennifer Heintz, AMD’18, helped create the videos.
Kloeckl worked closely with Joe Ranahan, Northeastern’s energy manager, to obtain the university’s energy consumption data. When Kloeckl first approached him about the project, Ranahan recalls being intrigued, noting that these visualizations offer a much more dynamic way to view the types of data he works with day in and day out than the usual line graphs and bar charts.
“I think what [Kristian] has created in the gallery helps a lay person better understand how energy moves around campus,” Ranahan said. “It’s a neat way of showing that, the way the campus works.”
The exhibit stems from an interdisciplinary research collaboration between Kloeckl and professors Matthias Ruth and Guevara Noubir. This is the first project to emerge from their collaboration, which is supported by Northeastern’s Tier 1 seed grant program.