A number of major utilities and smart grid/meter firms in the US have come together in a commitment to provide more than 15 million households with access to data about their energy use with the click of an online ‘Green Button’. The idea is that providing easy-to-understand information about how they’re using energy in their households will help consumers save power and reduce bills.
The Green Button initiative is an industry-led effort that allows electricity customers to download their household or building energy-use data in an easy-to-use format. It’s the result of a White House call to use technological innovation to help reduce energy costs for consumers while also protecting health and the environment.
In all, 15 electricity suppliers have committed to basing their Green Buttons on a common technical standard. A number of smart grid companies have joined them, including Itron, OPower, Oracle, Silver Spring Networks, Aclara and Tendril.
Adoption of a consensus standard means that software developers have a sufficiently large market to support the creation of applications that can help consumers make the most of their energy information. Green-Button-enabled web and smartphone applications could help consumers choose the most economical rate plan; provide customised energy efficiency tips; provide easy-to-use tools to size and finance rooftop solar panels; and deliver virtual energy audit software that cuts costs for building owners.
Companies that have already announced that they are developing applications or services using the industry data standard include Belkin, Efficiency 2.0, EnergySavvy, FirstFuel, Honest Buildings, Lucid, Plotwatt, Schneider-Electric, Simple Energy and Sunrun.
The US Department of Energy has also announced an ‘Apps for Energy’ contest to spur the invention of tools and services that will help consumers save on their utility bills.
Hopefully, once the US utilities have set the example, this initiative will spread to Europe and elsewhere in the world. With scepticism and concern about smart meter implementation threatening to slow down their roll-out, what’s needed now is better ways for consumers to get access to their power usage data and benefit from it. More useful applications built round these standards should help.
In the long run, though, only when we have fully-functioning smart grids in place will consumers really see the benefits of managing their energy use. That’s likely to be the case in the US ahead of Europe, or at least the UK where there are, as yet, no smart grid plans. So hopefully the Green Button, or something similar, will appear in the UK.