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These Penn State graduates developed a site to make renewable energy more accessible

GreenEnergyPA compares the most straightforward renewable energy rates with a goal to make it easier and more affordable for Pennsylvanians to switch their energy provider.

(Clockwise from top left) GreenEnergyPA creators Nick Weingartner, Keaton Foster, Vlad Tattybayev and Sam Kahan. (Courtesy photos; graphic by Technical.ly)
Anyone else receive multiple notifications every month from PECO to switch to renewable energy?

It can be a confusing process to do so, and it’s hard to know how good of a deal such a switch would really be. So, a group of recent Penn State graduates developed a site to make the switch to renewable energy easier and more affordable for Pennsylvanians.

Meet GreenEnergyPA.

“So there are websites out there now run by the government, like PA Power Switch, that allow you to search for rates, and Pennsylvania is one of the few states that allows you to change from your default energy provider to a selected provider,” said Nick Weingartner, a Philly-area civic hacker and one of the members of this project. “But the current options don’t really make it easy to persist.”

Students in the masters of software engineering program at Penn State had to complete a capstone project before graduation, and Weingartner said he and his co-developers wanted to complete a project that had a long lasting positive impact.

“It just feels like clean energy and green energy is something that affects all of us immediately,” Weingartner told Technical.ly. “And there is a way to do it in Pennsylvania where you can pay less every month. It’s just, people don’t know about it, or they assume that it’s more expensive. So we can use our skills to put together an application that has no biases.”

Keaton Foster, another groupmate on the project, said they referenced sites like PA Power Switch, but tried to make their site more user friendly. The members were aware of other sites before starting the project, but saw they needed some tweaks to reach more people and make the process to switch energy providers easier.

“I took that as a starting point — use their terminology as a starting point,” Foster said. “We’re using their API essentially to get the information, get the data of all the different providers and things.”

Other sites display all the information about energy plans, renewable and non-renewable, including plans that have cancellation fees or variable rates. GreenEnergyPA filters out all the energy plans that are not straightforward or renewable.

“You’re able to make a user account, play around with it, see your own rates if you’re in Pennsylvania,” said Vlad Tattybayev, another member of the group. (The fourth member is Sam Kahan.) “All you have to do is register, email, password, ZIP code, and you’re ready to go.”

The project is open source, and the group has no affiliation with energy companies or with the state government. Weingarneter said they don’t have any other interest besides getting people to switch to renewable energy. Tattybayev hopes they continue to work on the site after completing their graduate class and have now been working on it for about six months.

The project is still in beta, and Weingartner said they were initially receiving a lot of usability feedback. One suggestion they got: Add references for some of the green energy vocabulary that the average resident might not understand.

“We could definitely have some more upgrades on the user interface, make it even more intuitive than it already is, give it a little bit of lipstick,” Tattybayev said. “And hopefully, I think we have some plans in the future for actually tagging up with some UI individuals to help us with that path forward.”

Weingartner is the only group member who actually lives in Pennsylvania, in Montgomery County. Since the class was remote, the other group members are based in New York, Colorado and California.

However, the group chose Pennsylvania because of where Penn State is based, and because the state has so many different demographics of people.

“If you can make this easy for everybody to make a fiscally responsible decision, if there are politics involved, they can just not be as involved, because it just makes sense economically as well as sustainably and I think it’s not an argument that gets made that often,” Weingartner said.

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Penn State

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