Earlier this year the Obama Administration launched the ambitious Green Button initiative, designed to help utility companies across the nation coordinate new energy-saving technologies with startups and other innovators.
Green Button calls for the utility sector to standardize its energy data and make it available to consumers in a user-friendly format online. The underlying goal is to ensure that energy consumers have a greater awareness of opportunities to save money.
Though standardization is a fact of life - think light bulbs and sockets - standardizing a new sector is a somewhat risky undertaking, but it seems that the program is quickly gaining support among utility companies and energy suppliers.
Green Button for 30 million
Green Button began with only about half a dozen utility companies when it launched in January, but it added nine more in March. Just yesterday, the Obama Administration announced that six more utilities and electricity suppliers have signed on.
This group of 21 companies already serves more than 30 million households and businesses, so even at this early point, Green Button has the potential to make a significant difference in consumer energy use.
The newest round of utilities includes Chattanooga EPB, National Grid, PacifiCorp (aka Rocky Mountain Power and Pacific Power), PPL, and TXU Energy.
Previously signed up were Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Southern California Edison, Oncor, Pepco Holdings Inc., Glendale Water and Power, San Diego Gas & Electric, American Electric Power, Austin Energy, Baltimore Gas and Electric, CenterPoint Energy, Commonwealth Edison, NSTAR, PECO, Reliant, and Virginia Dominion Power.
In addition, about 500 utilities have added their names to the Department of Energy's new Utility Data Access Map, which will help consumers nationwide get information about their access to utility company data.
Standardizing energy data for new green jobs
The 21 companies have agreed to adopt a single technical standard, which is being developed by a public-private partnership under the auspices of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the Commerce Department.
The Department of Energy is also involved in the effort to link utility data to a network of consumer-friendly tools.
The purpose of standardization is twofold. First, a standard system makes it easier for householders and business owners to seamlessly adapt their energy strategies when moving from one service area to another.
More importantly, a single national standard instantly creates a huge market for new energy-saving applications. According to Todd Park, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, that has already begun to spur software developers to design new products around Green Button data.
According to a White House press release, the possibilities include Green-Button-enabled web and smartphone applications that help consumers choose the most economical rate plan for their use patterns, as well as customized energy efficiency tips, guidance on solar installations, and virtual energy audit software.
In yesterday's Green Button announcement, the new software developers included EnergyAI, Melon Power, Performance Systems Development, Retroficiency, Snugg Home, and Wattvision.
They join a growing list that already includes Aclara, Tendril, Itron, OPower, Oracle, Silver Spring Networks, Belkin, Efficiency 2.0, EnergySavvy, FirstFuel, Honest Buildings, Lucid, Plotwatt, Schneider-Electric, Simple Energy, and Sunrun.
Melon Power and Green Button
To help provide some insight into the interplay between software developers and the Green Button concept, Melon Power offers a good example.The company's experience with commercial buildings has enabled it to identify three obstacles that typically prevent building managers from pursuing energy saving strategies.
One obstacle is the limited amount of time and resources available to many building managers. Another is the pressure to achieve rapid payback. The third relates to the economics of scale; energy service companies generally prefer to deal with large projects, leaving many small property owners out in the cold.
Melon's solution is software that enables commercial building managers to create Energy Star benchmarks for their property. The benchmarking system enables managers to compare their building's energy performance with buildings that have a similar profile.
In the past, property owners would have to install new meters or reconfigure existing systems in order to access the necessary data. With Melon's Green Button-enabled software, they can accomplish the same thing with a single click.
Green Button and energy security
Aside from practically limitless applications in the civilian sector, Green Button (or a similar concept) could make its mark on military facilities as well. The Department of Defense has been embarking on an all-out effort to conserve energy and wean itself from fossil fuels, and as part of that endeavor the U.S. Navy has just announced the expansion of an energy saving program for its residential facilities.
Like Green Button, the Navy program is based on the premise that when energy consumer have more information about their energy use, and are able to compare their usage patterns with similar consumers, they will take action to cut consumption and save money.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.