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IEE Report Shows 'Green Button' Off to a Great Start

Given that consumers, on average, spend about 6 minutes per year interacting with their electric utility, motivating them to scrutinize their home’s energy consumption continues to be a tough challenge.  So far, however, the Green Button initiative has been an impressive first step toward doing just that, according to a new report, Green Button: One Year Later, by IEE, an institute of the Edison Foundation.

The Green Button initiative, launched one year ago by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, was founded on a simple premise:  Create an open data standard for utility customers to download information about their home’s electricity use, and software developers and other entrepreneurs would have a sufficiently large enough market to develop an array of new web and smartphone apps to help consumers make the most of their energy usage information.   In doing so, it would launch an innovation cycle between electric utilities, technology developers, and homes and businesses that will lead to greater energy savings for the nation.

“To make this idea work, however,” said Lisa Wood, IEE Executive Director, “electric utilities would have to agree to provide customer usage data in a common Green Button format, and technology companies would need to develop apps that would make consumers want to put their energy information to work to save energy.  The good news is that both are happening. 

“To date, 20 utilities—representing almost 30 percent of the nation’s residential customers—have created or have committed to create a "Green Button" on their website for their customers to download their energy use info in an easy-to-understand format.  And 36 technology companies are now publicly supporting the Green Button initiative.”

The apps being created to use Green Button data include:

  • Enabling businesses and consumers to choose among available electricity rate plans for one that best suits their energy-use profile
  • Delivering customized energy-efficiency tips
  • Conducting virtual energy audits that can cut costs 

The tech companies also have begun creating innovative apps that allow consumers to compete against their Facebook friends to see who can save the most energy or shrink their carbon footprint the most.
The utility community has been actively supporting the Green Button ecosystem through competitions and centralized application marketplaces. Between April and May 2012, the Department of Energy partnered with Itron and PG&E to host the Apps for Energy Challenge. In just two months, the competition attracted over 12,000 followers and helped facilitate the development of 56 Green Button enabled applications.

“Green Button has made some impressive early steps,” said Wood.  “With so many utilities and technology companies already committed to the initiative, the crucial link now becomes the customer.  To engage customers, the following three elements are critical”:

  1. Automating the data transfer to third parties.  Currently, Green Button requires customers to download their energy usage data to a computer and then manually upload it to a third-party app.  The downloading process is a barrier.  As the Green Button movement matures, an automation process, known as “Green Button Connect,” where the customer clicks a button to push the data to a third-party, will become the norm.
  2. Establishing a framework for authorizing third parties.  Electric utilities and state utility regulators will need to identify the proper protocols for disclosing customer usage data to third parties.  In California, momentum is already shifting towards more open third party access to customer energy data.  As a first step, the data authorization process must be easy and include electronic data access authorizations (similar to signing up for paperless billing).
  3. A ‘go-to’ marketplace for Green Button applications.  While developers have made a significant amount of progress since the inception of the Green Button initiative by producing 68 applications, getting these apps to the customer remains a challenge. Examples of initial marketplaces are: National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Open Energy Info (OpenEI) Apps website, Tendril’s Green Button Connect platform, Apps for Energy submission gallery, AT&T San Diego Apps Challenge application gallery.

The complete IEE report, Green Button:  One Year Later, can be downloaded here.

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