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Empowering Customers With a Green Button

Sixty days ago, U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra challenged the utility industry to enable consumers to download their detailed energy usage with the simple click of a “Green Button.” Here's an update.

Sixty days ago, U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra challenged the utility industry to enable consumers to download their detailed energy usage with the simple click of a “Green Button.”

The concept of a Green Button—inspired by successes in getting Americans their own health care data, but developed by the energy industry in a consensus process and adopted voluntarily—builds on policy objectives in the Obama Administration's Blueprint For a Secure Energy Future and Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid to ensure that consumers have timely access to their own energy data in consumer-friendly and computer-friendly formats.

With this information at their fingertips, consumers would be enabled to make more informed decisions about their energy use and, when coupled with opportunities to take action, empowered to more actively manage their energy use. Furthermore, making this information available—in standardized file formats—will help spur innovative new consumer applications and devices from entrepreneurs, large companies, and students. Here are just a few ways data from the Green Button might be put to use today:

  • Insight: entrepreneur-created web portals to analyze usage and provide actionable tips;
  • Heating and Cooling: customizing thermostats for savings and comfort;
  • Education: community and student energy efficiency competitions;
  • Retrofits: improved decision-support tools to facilitate energy efficiency retrofits;
  • Verification: measurement of structural energy efficiency investments;
  • Real Estate: energy costs for tenants and/or new home purchasers; and
  • Solar: optimizing the size of rooftop solar panels.

Since the call-to-action at GridWeek, a lot has happened.

Industry is already stepping up to empower consumers. California’s three largest utilities—Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison—are working together to create a “Green Button” that would allow customers to download their detailed energy usage with one click. 

While these utilities are still working towards the final details, significant progress has been made towards a single format (an xml file). To make this early information readily available to a broader community of app developers, a Green Button webpage has been created on NIST’s smart grid wiki with useful material such as the current “working” file format and other technical background.

Nick Sinai is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer