Saving Energy, One Green Button at a Time

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Conserving energy is not a shot in the dark. Millions of people can now shine a light on their electricity usage as a result of a dynamic public-private partnership based on open data.

The goal of the Green Button Initiative is to provide electricity customers with access to their energy usage data in an easy-to-understand and computer-friendly format. Customers can click on the “Green Button” logo on participating companies’ websites and download their personal energy use information. Data is provided securely and is displayed in a standard way, regardless of energy company. Alternatively, if supported, an authorization can be provided for a third party service to automatically retrieve the customer’s data for analysis and advice.

Green Button Initiative logo
The Initiative has experienced tremendous growth since its launch in January 2012. Currently, more than 60 million Americans (and 2.5 million Canadians) have access to their own Green Button data from 34 different companies. An additional 13 companies have committed to implementing Green Button.

The Initiative is an industry-led effort. Developers, data specialists, and energy professionals support the project through four active communities. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the Department of Commerce provides leadership and support for the technical standards of Green Button.

“You can only control what you can measure,” said Martin Burns, Ph.D., electronic engineer in NIST’s Smart Grid and Cyber Physical Systems Program Office. “There are lots of reasons why you want to manage the usage of energy. In order to do that, you have to have a measurement of energy. Green Button represents that currency of energy efficiency. It enables an ecosystem of benefits for all kinds of consumers.”

The benefits of Green Button are not limited to homeowners and residential users. Commercial property managers can conduct energy audits remotely and identify usage patterns among tenants. Public policy can be refined through clearer, more accurate data. Utility and energy providers can engage customers and develop efficiency programs. Energy efficiency organizations can engage their stakeholders to leverage Green Button as a concrete tool that increases efficiency.

Sparking Innovation
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The Initiative has ignited innovation in the private sector, which benefits Green Button customers who want to take action based on their data. There are 34 vendors who have created products, services, and apps that use Green Button data.

Green Button innovation has also been promoted by the Department of Energy through their Apps for Energy Challenges. Between April and May 2012, the first competition attracted over 12,000 followers and 56 apps were developed, all based on Green Button data. The app Leafully won first place. Leafully monitors users’ energy usage and sends alerts if there is abnormal activity. Users can also view their energy consumption in terms of trees: They can learn how many trees it takes to offset the carbon produced by their energy use.

The second competition, Apps for Energy II, took place in 2014 and was part of a larger, four-part challenge called the American Energy Data Challenge. The four finalists for the second competition were e-lite Power Use Planner, enACT, PowerHouse—How Clean is Your Shirt?, and WattBuddy.

Growing the Program
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On February 6th, an event celebrating “The Birth of the Green Button Ecosystem” will be held in San Diego, California. Green Button creators, developers, industry partners, utility companies, and stakeholders will come together to learn about current efforts and future directions of the Initiative.

As the Initiative moves forward, one main goal is to ensure that all parts of the Initiative work together. This interoperability is a greater challenge for Green Button than for other projects.

“Interoperability requires many parts,” said Burns. “For a lot of the open data initiatives, government is the single source of information. In that case, publishing the data and describing it is the basis for interoperability. For Green Button data, you have independent private organizations—third parties and data custodians; therefore, interoperability has multiple parties.”

Burns identified three things that are needed for Green Button interoperability. First, Green Button has a data standard, a document that describes the data. Second, a trade organization had created a certification that codifies implementation agreements and provides a single way to interpret the data standard. This ensures everyone understands the data in the same way. The third part of Green Button is open source testing tools. Anyone can create a product based on Green Button data.

“We’ve built up these components—data standards, testing and certification, and open source tools—and they will be unveiled together on February 6th,” Burns said. “We are celebrating this achievement. We have all these pieces, along with 60 million households, and we hope to be able to use this ecosystem to propagate across the country—and maybe across the world—a standard API about this currency of energy efficiency. That creates an opening for third party providers and economies of scale. They don’t have to custom write software or negotiate with every utility on earth.”

Interested participants need to register for the half-day Green Button event.

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