Posted on January 18, 2012

White House Challenge Met: PG&E’s Green Button Now Live

The Green Button allows customers to download their energy-usage data, enabling them to becoming more energy efficient.

By David Kligman

SANTA CLARA PG&E on Wednesday (Jan. 18) publicly launched its “green button,” an online tool that allows customers to download their own energy data to be used to develop third-party applications that can help customers save energy and money.

California’s three major electric providers—PG&E, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison—committed to developing the technology last fall after a challenge from White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra during a forum in San Ramon hosted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

Watch a video on the Green Button launch.

Chopra adapted the idea from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ launch of a “blue button” tool, developed initially for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, that has helped more than 500,000 veterans, medicare beneficiaries, and active-duty personnel download their health information for sharing with doctors, care givers and others they trust and is available today to more than 80 million Americans.

The green button works much the same way, allowing consumers to download their hourly electric usage information in customer- and computer-friendly formats.

On Wednesday, Chopra congratulated the utilities’ progress during a Silicon Valley meeting with executives representing smart grid, energy efficiency and solar financing companies.

White House CTO Aneesh Chopra

White House CTO Aneesh Chopra leads a Q&A featuring, from left, PG&E's Karen Austin, Todd Inlander of Southern California Edison and Chris Baker of San Diego Gas & Electric. (Photos by David Kligman.)

Freeing information will spur innovation

Chopra said industry adoption of the green button standard will jumpstart innovation while creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators, with customer permission, to help Americans make informed energy decisions.

“Millions of Californians now have the ability to download in computer-friendly form information that can serve as fuel for a whole new portfolio of innovative apps,” Chopra said. “This is a way to modernize the American economy.”

Chopra referred to the utilities’ development of the green button as “liberating data,” which will spur innovation and ultimately help PG&E customers better manage their energy use.

“This is about empowering consumers with their own data,” he said.

Also Wednesday, Chopra announced that utilities in the Washington, D.C., area and in Texas will follow PG&E’s lead and develop their own green button.

The commitment by the utilities means that more than 10 million California households will be able to use the green button and a growing set of software tools and applications to better manage energy use and shrink their energy bills

Software developer Joss Scholten of Austin, Texas

Software developer Joss Scholten of Austin, Texas, shows the energy app he created to PG&E's Zahra Makoui.

The green button is another extension of the benefits of a smart grid, including PG&E’s nearly 9 million SmartMeters™ already in use in Northern and Central California.

A number of energy technology companies showed samples of apps that could be used from the green button information. Among those in attendance was software developer Joss Scholten of Austin, Texas, who created an app in 12 hours using PG&E’s green button. The app, which he displayed on his iPad, shows hourly, monthly and daily electric usage in a customer-friendly display.

Technology requires electric SmartMeter™

For PG&E customers, access to the green button requires an electric SmartMeter™ connected to the network and a My Energy account. From the “My Usage Details” section, residential and mid-size business customers can click on the green button icon to download up to 13 months of hourly electric usage data in XML format. That information can then be sent to developers or third parties.

“PG&E’s focus is on providing its customers with safe, reliable and affordable energy,” said Karen Austin, PG&E’s chief information officer. “And our work on the smart grid is part of that commitment as we enable new technologies like the green button that help our customers better understand and manage their energy.”

The agreement by the utilities is just the first step in what can be accomplished using smart grid technology, Chopra said. And it all started with a meeting in October with Chopra and the utilities.

“I asked, ‘When might there be a green button?’” Chopra recalled. “Karen said, ‘Why don’t you come visit me at PG&E and I’ll call my brothers and sisters from the major utilities in California and let’s just have a conversation. And we sat down for two to three hours looking at the pros and the cons and the technical challenges. But at the end of the day leadership prevailed. They said, ‘We pledge to do this.’ Is it perfect? No. Does it solve all our problems? No. But does it get us started? Absolutely.

“This movement will only grow because of the actions taken today.”

E-mail David Kligman at d1kf@pge.com.

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