Green Button Will Spur Energy-Saving Apps
Could offering energy info downloads save utilities from delivering data via smart meters?
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February 20, 2012 by Steven Castle

Have you heard about the Green Button initiative? It’s a way to get your energy usage information from your electric utility. President Barack Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union address, and you’re probably going to start hearing a lot more about it. Electric utilities are beginning to support it—and app developers are busy creating useful—and hopefully engaging—apps based on Green Button data.

The initiative started as a challenge from Aneesh Chopra at the Obama Administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, and so far California utilities Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE) have answered the call and are offering Green Buttons on their web sites so customers can download their energy info.

Other utilities including Southern California Edison, Glendale Power & Light, Oncor in Texas and Mid-Atlantic energy provider Pepco Holdings will offer the feature later this year. Expect many other utilities to follow.

PG&E and SDG&E offer downloads to their smart meter customers in XML or CSV formats, the latter of which can be viewed in a spreadsheet. You can download a sample here. Customers of those utilities who also have two-way communicating smart meters can go to their My Energy or My Accounts pages to download their energy data.

So far the form of the info is a bit crude. And the energy usage info is your total electricity used each hour, though you can get 13 months worth of it. The California utilities got together and agreed upon a specific format for their Green Button rollouts.

San Diego Gas & Electric reports that about 2,900 downloads have taken place since the button was first made available on Dec. 29, 2011. SDGE has replaced 1.4 million electric meters with smart meters.

Apps Will Follow

This is just a start, though. The idea behind the Green Button initiative isn’t just to give people their rightful energy information, but to enable app developers to also use this early, crude-form info to develop useful applications for consumers to view and manage their energy.

“The availability and access of this information will create a lot of excitement,” says Greg Snapper, spokesperson for PG&E “We’re going to leave it up to the brilliant and savvy Silicon Valley folks to provide ways to present of that information.”

You can choose to keep your energy information yourself or share it with a third-party developer. Smart grid software platform company Tendril already has a Green Button Connect site where consumers can can upload their green button data and try out different applications to make sense of it. According to reports, Tendril says that 240 application developers have registered to use the Tendril platform through Green Button Connect, and at least 50 applications are in active development.

“A lot of what we’re doing with it is making it simpler and easy to use,” says Dennis Kyle, Tendril’s vice president of strategic and new market development. “We’re trying to come up with tools to make it easier and more accessible to the consumer.

Austin, Texas web developer Josh Scholten created an app in 12 hours showing electric usage by day, month, year, and he also wants to provide charts, graphs and analysis.

You can expect these kinds of apps to become available, as well as those that can provide targeted energy efficiency tips, depending on your energy use and other factors.

The Green Button is also expected to support a new generation of interactive thermostats and virtual energy audits that will recommend energy-efficiency retrofit improvements for homes and businesses.

Considering concerns about security surrounding smart meter communications, many utilities may prefer that their smart meter customers get their energy information via the Internet rather than through a direct connection and in-home energy display. We may also see utilities providing smart grid services like information on changing hourly rates (called Time of Use rate) via the Internet rather than through their smart meters.


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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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