Posted on March 22, 2012

‘Green Button’ Gets White House Spotlight with PG&E-Sponsored App Contest

By David Kligman

Earley: Powering the People 2.0

In Washington, D.C., today, PG&E’s Tony Earley spoke on the importance of giving customers greater visibility into their energy use. (Photos by David Kligman.)

WASHINGTON—The Apps for Energy Contest, a nationwide search for the best smart phone and tablet apps to help Americans save energy and money, was announced by the U.S. Department of Energy today (March 22).

PG&E joins Itron and DOE as sponsors of the $100,000 competition for the best energy apps using the Green Button. Tony Earley, PG&E’s CEO, chairman and president, met with Energy Secretary Steven Chu at a White House meeting of utility executives today.

The Apps for Energy Contest is the result of PG&E’s pioneering launch of an online “green button,” which allows customers with SmartMeters™ to easily download their personal energy information—in a standardized format—that can be used by third-party developers to create innovative energy-saving ideas.

“Providing this kind of information in any kind of consumer-friendly format is a step in the right direction,” said Earley. “But providing it in a standardized format is a quantum leap. It maximizes the potential for putting this information to use. It invites innovation. That’s the genius behind the green button idea—and that’s why PG&E was so enthusiastic about this effort when the White House issued the challenge.”

Powering the People 2.0

PG&E's J.R. Staley discusses the utility's technology to Georgetown student Amitai Raziel at the Powering the People conference in Washington today.

PG&E and a few other utilities committed to providing a green button for their customers in late 2011. It became available to PG&E customers in January 2012. Today, the DOE said, another nine U.S. utilities made a similar commitment.

The Department of Energy has long supported energy innovation, driving a nationwide push for renewable energy sources and encouraging every American to become more involved in their energy use.

“Green Button will arm millions of Americans with information they can use to lower their energy bills,” said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “Innovative tools like these are good for our economy, good for the health of our communities, and an essential part of our approach toward a secure and clean energy future that works for Americans.”

Cash prizes totaling $100,000 for best energy apps

The contest will award cash prizes to create the best new energy management apps for customers.

Beginning April 5, app developers can register for the contest at www.challenge.gov and submit a description, video, photos and a link to their app. The website www.energy.gov/developer will be the main resource page for developers. The public can also submit ideas for energy apps at www.energy.gov.

Finalists will be announced in May.

After the White House meeting, Earley spoke at “Powering the People 2.0,” the Institute for Electric Efficiency’s conference where industry leaders from PG&E and the nation’s largest utilities gathered to collaborate on new ideas for transforming how the world thinks about energy.

“The more engaging apps that are available, the more tools our customers have to be smarter consumers,” Earley said. “That’s the kind of innovation and engagement we’re talking about at PG&E when we talk about ‘making energy personal.’”

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

Origin of the green button

The idea for the green button came from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ “blue button,” which 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.

At a PG&E-hosted meeting in October, Aneesh Chopra, the then-White House chief technology officer, challenged PG&E Chief Information Officer Karen Austin and California’s other utilities to develop a green button that would allow customers to download their energy usage information in a standard format. The idea was that third party innovators could take the information, provided voluntarily by customers, to inspire new products and services and bring to life the smart grid.

PG&E launched its green button technology in less than 90 days, announced in January during a Silicon Valley forum featuring Chopra and Austin.

The program is off to a quick start. PG&E customers with a SmartMeter and a “My Energy” account can visit www.pge.com, click on the green button icon and download up to 13 months of hourly electric usage data in XML format.

In just a few months, there has already been about 220,000 green button downloads. About half of PG&E’s customers—or 2.3 million electric customers—are registered and have access to their energy data through the green button.

The green button concept became a reality in just a matter of months. And now, thanks to that technology, the search begins for the best energy-saving apps.

“Providing consumers with easy access to data on their energy consumption can help give them the tools they need to make informed decisions about their energy use,” Energy Secretary Chu said. “Developing applications and services to help consumers understand and control their energy use is a field ripe for American innovation.”

E-mail David Kligman at david.kligman@pge.com.

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