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The numbers don’t add up

Numbers help technical professionals make things quantifiable & real for our clients & stakeholders. But the ways we actually use them to convey meaning often range from the clumsy to just plain weird. I can’t remember how many times I’ve read articles comparing huge volumes of water to “X” numbers of swimming pools. Look, I know how big 1 swimming pool is, but if you’re asking me to mentally map a heavy rainfall event to 42,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools…. I think I’m going to stick to “raining cats & dogs”.

The article here shares about the very commendable efforts by Changi Airport to move towards greater energy efficiency. When talking about the expected energy savings of their innovative approach, we’re told that:

“…energy savings could be about 15.8 gigawatt-hours (GWh) per year. This means Changi Airport will be able to lower its annual air-conditioning usage by a third of the existing systems' pre-Covid consumption. The savings are equivalent to the electricity consumption of 3,500 Housing Board 4-room flats for a year.”

It’s true 15.8 GWh per year is too unwieldy & technical a number for such an article. But using 4-room HDB flats as a unit of measure is really weird. And 3,500 of them? Impossible to imagine.

How about something more direct, like… “equivalent to blanketing the entire Terminal 3 roof with solar panels”? We all know Terminal 3, its dramatic roof and probably experienced the unique atmosphere created by the innovative use of natural light. I think it’s kinda nice that we don’t need to destroy the roof aesthetics of the entire Terminal 3 to get the same energy benefit!

I think any technical professional can make that bit more effort #communicatingnumbers to engender stronger support from a wider audience. Let’s try to drop those awkward units of measure into one of those 42,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

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