The fan base for President Obama’s ambitious new Green Button energy conservation program started off small in January with a short list of half a dozen utility companies covering 12 million households, and in two months it has practically doubled in size. Last week, nine more major utility companies and electricity suppliers announced their support along with a dozen or so energy and information technology related companies. All in all, Green Button will already be available to about 27 million households as it rolls out over the next few years – and that’s just for starters.
So…what is Green Button, and why is the energy industry beginning to love it?
Green Button and President Obama’s energy policy
The Green Button concept is an important part of the President’s Blueprint For a Secure Energy Future and Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid. It works from the premise that consumers will manage their energy consumption more efficiently when they have detailed, timely access to information – and they will be more likely to act on emerging opportunities to save money and energy.
Green Button was launched last fall, following the success of a similar concept, the Blue Button program of the Veterans’ Administration. Blue Button provides VA health care clients with one-click, online access to all of their health care data, literally in the form of a blue icon “button.” Key to Blue Button’s success is presenting the data in a standard, user-friendly form that consumers can actually put to work for their own benefit.
On the health care provider and information technology end, Blue Button required standardization and coordination across the industry. Translate that into the energy field and you have Green Button, which coordinates all sectors of the electricity supply chain to provide energy data to consumers in a uniform, online format.
The utility company PG&E has been in the vanguard for Green Button and you can see it in action on their website.
One Green Button, many green jobs
By signing on to Green Button, the utilities have agreed to coordinate the Green Button icon on their individual websites with common standard developed by a public-private partnership supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is an agency of the Commerce Department.
In terms of Green Button, standardization across utility companies will create a gigantic national marketplace for energy related IT products out of the hodgepodge of individual utility markets that characterize the U.S. electricity sector. The Obama Administration anticipates that this will motivate more software developers and entrepreneurs to create new energy-saving applications for consumers, creating more green jobs in the process.
Jumping on the Green Button bandwagon
The initial list of utility and energy supplier sign-ons included Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Southern California Edison, Oncor, Pepco Holdings Inc., Glendale Water and Power, and San Diego Gas & Electric, which all together will provide Green Button to almost 12 million households.
Last week’s announcement added American Electric Power, Austin Energy, Baltimore Gas and Electric, CenterPoint Energy, Commonwealth Edison, NSTAR, PECO, Reliant, and Virginia Dominion Power for another 15 million households.
On the IT, applications (including mobile apps) and related services side, Aclara and Tendril signed on in January and they have just been joined by Itron, OPower, Oracle, Silver Spring Networks, Belkin, Efficiency 2.0, EnergySavvy, FirstFuel, Honest Buildings, Lucid, Plotwatt, Schneider-Electric, Simple Energy, and Sunrun.
The energy industry and Green Button
The electricity sector stands to gain from Green Button because it gives utility companies an essential tool for managing growth and profitability into the future as we transition from old energy to new. In particular, coal fired power plants are closing and nuclear energy faces an uncertain future, so utilities are venturing into new alternative energy territory that requires improved information sharing between provider and consumer to function efficiently, such as distributed solar energy.
In some markets, Green Button could help motivate more consumers to take advantage of weatherization and other energy efficiency improvements offered by utilities that are looking to manage the long term demand for energy in their service area.
Green Button also provides utility companies and their customers with a more efficient disaster management tool when extra conservation measures are called for in order to avoid brownouts and blackouts.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.