Bringing Value to the New Energy Consumer with the Green Button

There was exciting news today in Washington, DC: 9 utilities, representing 15 million consumers committed to implement the Green Button . They join 6 others that announced the availability of the Green Button earlier this year and a growing list of vendors, that have committed to or already implemented (which Tendril has) Green Button technology. Together, this brings to 27 million the number of consumers that will have secure access to their own energy usage information in an easily accessible, digital-friendly format. The announcement came in conjunction with the Institute for Electric Efficiency’s (IEE) “Powering the People 2.0” event. Earlier in the day, a broad industry coalition (again Tendril included) highlighted the value of the Green Button as a key policy priority as well in a letter to President Obama.

Tendril has stood behind the Green Button from the beginning, consistent with our longstanding support of open consumer access to their energy information. Earlier this year, we included features to allow both utility partners and software developers using our platform the tools to easily generate and work with Green Button-formatted files.

We also launched GreenButtonConnect.com to offer consumers a positive first experience with the Green Button file they download through an app gallery, which will be re-launched today with a fresh look and more intuitive design. The website was featured as part of “Innovation Alley” showing utilities, consumers and policy-makers the power of our Connect Platform™ and developer tools.

With these new announcements, I was struck by how quickly a good idea, delivered at the right time can take flight.

The confluence of energy information, smart devices and motivated consumers suggests that the Green Button has arrived at an auspicious time. Even the most casual observer of the electric industry today concludes that the energy consumer of the next decade will bear little resemblance to the consumer of the last several decades. In the past, consumer demands were shaped by the available technology. Going forward, the available technology will drive consumer demands.

What do I mean by that? Quite simply, consumers are going to increasingly expect to have greater visibility into the energy system that serves them because of the new capabilities of the devices in their lives, not because they inherently have an interest in that information per se. (Just think of all the people today, their smart phones brimming with downloaded apps, managing valuable aspects of their lives conveniently and securely. Now imagine those same people managing the internet of things within their connected home.)

This is when the Smart Grid gets truly “smart”. When you can ask your home to please take advantage of all the available wind power during the day as easily as you can ask Siri to find you a good place for lunch, you know that the Smart Grid is working. Engaged consumers using smart technologies will drive innovation that can save consumers billions of dollars and further accelerate the app industry, one of the brightest spots of the growth within the economy.

The Evolution of the Energy Consumer

Information sits at the heart of any well-functioning competitive market or regulated regime. At least as early as the Energy Information and Security Act’s, signed by President Bush in 2007, which called for the “provision to consumers of timely information and control options,” putting consumers firmly in control of how their information is used has been a policy priority at the state and federal level and on both sides of the aisle. The Green Button is consistent with those policy goals and the Consumer’s Bill of Rights around privacy put forward recently by the White House.

On a GridWise Alliance webinar earlier this week, I speculated about the kinds of apps that could be put together with currently available data sets and technology. As my colleague Yelena mused last week, we at Tendril believe that most consumers need to know where to begin. We know that information without context is insufficient. It has to be actionable.

But it also has to be available.

There is popular line of reasoning today suggesting that our best approach to energy efficiency is to seek incremental improvements of a few percentage points at a time in “demand-side” programs that have limited exposure. No doubt, even modest efficiency gains will yield massive kWh reductions. But is that where our ambition should stop? If we are correct that, driven by technology, the new energy consumer demand services that improve their quality of life, then shouldn’t we set our sights more boldly?

For me, the more compelling narrative suggests that the great innovations that stand in waiting will bring opportunities for the as “customer co-creation of value.” Perhaps the most common example for travelers is online check-in where we log on from home, map our own seats and print our boarding passes. More convenient of consumer; more efficient for airlines. Both win.

I think we can expect to see this kind of value creation in demand management and energy efficiency. We launched GreenButtonConnect.com (and our developer program in general) with the belief that we can unleash innovations greater than what we can imagine today.

Green Button information is not only a way to achieve energy efficiency and contribute to load management (DSM measures, if you will), it is fuel into the engine of innovation the Smart Grid was meant to enable.

We’ve been actively sponsoring developers contests and hackathons, including San Francisco, New York, London and ones coming up in Boston, Amsterdam and here inBoulder. Teams have quickly built great apps that recommend rate plans, identify consumption drivers and help consumers find efficiency fixtures and appliances.

But, I’m really looking forward to the ones still coming. Show me what my hour-by-hour carbon footprint looks like so that I can match my usage to the availability of clean energy sources. Let my electric vehicle look at my calendar and energy prices to charge my car to match my schedule. Or create an auditing tool that combines product information, location and building science to give someone in the field the best possible upgrades for a home.

I’d be interested to hear what readers of this blog, and especially, non-energy industry insiders, would like to see from an energy app. If you’ve got an idea, tweet it to us at @tendril and throw in the #greenbutton hash tag.

The Green Button gives us the first step on that path to building these apps. So that is why we’re excited about this and why we’re making sure that our platform is aligned with what forward-looking utilities are doing to enable this future of value “co-creation.”

Cameron Brooks, VP Policy