How Xcel Energy Misleads the Public with Their Windsource Chart

When using a graphic to visualize the path toward a goal, there are some common conventions one can use to get the point across. For example, fundraising goals often use graphics to visualize the path toward the goal like this Tour de BBQ graphic:


Or this Winter Sanctuary fundraising goal chart:

Or a Nikau-ometer from New Zealand:

But, when Xcel Energy created a graphic to represent the energy purchased through their Windsource program to date, they chose this graphic:

Misleading Xcel Energy Windsource Grpahic

While typical, honest, graphics show progress toward a goal in a linear fashion, Xcel took a different approach. Things start out fine with their 2004 stats. But, when they added 2005 stats, they included the 2004 data with the 2005 data (the yellow line). 2006’s data includes the two previous years (turquoise line). By 2012, they were taking credit for every previous year within that one year.

Taking credit for 2004’s consumption in 2005 – 2012 is rather ridiculous. If they want to stack each year of data, they shouldn’t do so redundantly. Here’s a stacked version where each year is only counted once.

Windsource Consumption 2004 - 2012

The early years on the left had lower consumption on the left, but in aggregate they reached the 1 billion kWh milestone.

If they’d like to stick with circles, here’s an example of what that could look like:

Xcel Windsource Data in a Circle

Because Xcel octuple counts 2004 consumption in their chart, septuble 2005, etc., they’ve presented FAR more than 1 billion kWh in their chart that’s designed to illustrate 1 billion kWh. Straightening out each of the Windsource graphic’s lines, and comparing them to the net consumption for each year helps illustrate their massive distortion of data:

Xcel Energy Windsource vs Reality Chart

Why would they do that? Could a company with so many engineers not understand how to properly visualize data? Here’s one possibility. If I remove Xcel’s distorted data from the above chart we can see the trend in the popularity of the Windsource program:

Windsource Consumption by Year 2004-2012

Is Windsource slipping in popularity? I don’t know. I’m assuming that the 2012 data includes the full year of 2012 since Xcel waited until April 2013 to put out a press release about the milestone.

But, the more important issue to me is Xcel’s knack for misleading customers about their practices. Their Windsource chart is one example of this. In this case, the volume of lines illustrating Windsource consumption between 2004 – 2012 in the Xcel’s chart create the impression that they sold 4X the volume of kWh they actually sold. The line for 2012 distorts their 2012 Windsource sales by nearly 7X.

I’m an Xcel customer and a Windsource customer. As a Minneapolis resident, I don’t have many energy options. But, even without options, I shouldn’t have to deal with a utility that so blatantly misleads the public about their renewable milestones.

2 thoughts on “How Xcel Energy Misleads the Public with Their Windsource Chart”

  1. Ok, looking more closely… while Edward Tufte may not be overly impressed, I think the graphic is not terribly misleading. It could sure use a legend or title, though, to clarify what those spirals mean.

    The whole point of the infographic is that they have sold a cumulative total of one billion kWh of windsource energy.

    To that end, each year of the spiral shows how much *cumulative* power had been sold as of that year, on the way to 1 billion in 2012. That’s not too unreasonable a presentation, IMHO.

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