• 04.21.14

An App That Lets You Map All The World’s Wasted Energy

Does it bother you to distraction when you see someone wasting electricity? The LightsOut app is for you to tattle on others.

An App That Lets You Map All The World’s Wasted Energy
[Image: Light bulb via Shutterstock]

Are you the sort of person who gets annoyed about waste? If you are, you’ve likely been in a situation where you’ve seen something and wanted to say something. Say you’ve seen something perfectly usable thrown away. Or someone has left a bunch of lights on during the day. You’re the person who wants to tell the world of the stupidity of the situation.


The idea of LightsOut–a new, and as yet not fully developed app–is to give people that power. It’s a way for people who care about inefficiency and unsustainable behavior to report on it. Think of it like a crowdsourced energy audit.

Spencer Lawrence got the idea after being an energy auditor for three years. “I would continually get frustrated because I’d see all these lights on,” he says. “You would have a bright blue sky, and there would be absolutely no need for these lights to be on. As someone who cares about climate change, that felt like a slap in the face and obviously one of the most blatant wastes of energy there is.”

Lawrence thought of a mobile app or website where you could map things like lights on in the day, and that would give people power to “get the ball rolling on trying to get the problem solved.”

The idea recently won the Cleanweb Hackathon in Boston. Lawrence pitched the idea Friday night, then worked on a website with his friend John Massie, and a developer. The team started the weekend by walking around near Greentown Labs, which hosted the hack in Somerville. “In about 30 minutes, just walking around the block, we found 70 light fixtures, and we started to snapping photos,” Massie says. The reckon they saw about $400 in potential energy savings during that short time.

Thirty hours later (drinks included), they had a functional site. It is still “pretty beta,” but the idea seems promising. Massie talks of shining light on a sometimes invisible problem. “It’s about putting power into the hands of people who actually care about this stuff and thus far haven’t really had an avenue to do anything about it, he says.

Second and third place in the hack went to Team MapMyEnergy, an app that organizes real-estate listings by energy efficiency, and Barnacle, a device for homeowners to control water flow to their house.


The LightsOut founders are now going to spend seven months with an accelerator program run by Greentown Labs developing the app, and create an education section of things people can look out for (“slow-flow faucets, in my experience, are a no-brainer in the bathroom,” Lawrence says).

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.