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Posted on October 1, 2012

PG&E’s Updated Green Button Technology Makes it Easier for Customers to Access Energy Data

By David Kligman

At a White House ceremony today (Oct. 1), PG&E announced it is testing Green Button Connect, an easier and automated way for customers to securely download their energy data and send it to a third party app developer or use the data themselves to track their usage.

Chief Information Officer Karen Austin attended the event called “Datapalooza,” hosted by U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, to showcase recent progress in data availability and innovation among utilities. Energy Secretary Steven Chu also took part.

Karen Austin and Mike Glass

PG&E Chief Information Officer Karen Austin and Mike Glass, director of IT, represent the utility in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Greg Snapper.)

It was Park’s predecessor, Aneesh Chopra, who one year ago met with Austin and challenged the nation’s utilities to make it easy for customers to access their own energy information in a standardized format with the click of a green button.

PG&E did that and then some, working with the White House and other utilities on a contest called “Apps for Energy.”

Park has praised the work of PG&E other utilities for developing and adopting the Green Button. The technology has enabled software developers to create energy- and money-saving smart phone and tablet apps.

“Giving residential and commercial customers secure access to their own energy data in a standard, easy-to-understand format will help them visualize their energy use and identify opportunities to save money,” Park said. “At the same time, Green Button is spurring the development of new online tools and services that add value to this information, creating an innovative new domain for entrepreneurship and job creation.”

Technology quick, easy to use

Austin said PG&E’s information technology team developed Green Button Connect with the understanding that the technology has to be easy and quick to use. San Diego Gas & Electric also will use Green Button Connect for its customers.

Previously, a customer would have to repeatedly download their electric usage and manually send it to a third party app developer. With Green Button Connect they can choose to automate that process.

John Hwang

App developer John Hwang’s purchase of a Chevy Volt inspired him to enter the “Apps for Energy” contest to develop an app to help inform would-be buyers of electric vehicles. (Photo by David Kligman.)

“If most customers are only going to spend a few minutes a year thinking about energy use, let’s make the most of those precious minutes by giving them what they need to be successful—access and control over their data,” she said. “How and when to use it with third party developers, or pore over the data themselves. Either way, they win.”

It’s also secure for customers, who can set a PIN code for each utility service agreement that they control.

“It’s a simple model that, most importantly, gives our customers control of who gets their data,” Austin said.

Dozens of apps already developed

Last week, the Edison Foundation’s Institute for Electric Efficiency issued a report hailing the Green Button initiative. So far, 20 utilities—representing nearly 36 million residential customers—have created or have committed to create a green button. And developers have created 68 apps using the technology. Green Button Connect is just one of the examples of PG&E’s evolving smart grid.

“Green Button has made some impressive early steps,” said Lisa Wood, the institute’s executive director.  “With so many utilities and technology companies already committed to the initiative, the crucial link now becomes the customer.”

Green Button

PG&E is among 20 utilities that have created or committed to create a green button to make it easy for software developers to create apps that help customers save money and energy.

The release of Green Button Connect created excitement in the developer community, which has created new apps from startups like PEV4Me, Leafully (which won the “Apps for Energy” grand prize) and Unplug Stuff, all of which have products that customers with electric SmartMeters can access. Green Button Connect is now available for use, though PG&E may still make some changes to the technology to make it even more efficient.

John Hwang was among the app developers invited to attend the White House ceremony. He and his business partner created the PEV4ME calculator, which helps car buyers determine the electricity cost and gas savings of owning an electric vehicle using a customer’s past 12 months of green button data.

“It’s an honor to get invited to the White House, to be a pioneer of this Green Button initiative,” Hwang told Currents last week at his Sunnyvale home.

Hwang, who formerly developed car racing and aquarium games for Facebook and smartphones, was inspired to create the app earlier this year after buying a Chevy Volt, an extended range electric car. He said he hopes his app helps Americans reduce their dependence on foreign oil.

“I really felt like gaming was a fun and entertaining industry, and it made a lot of money,” he said. “But I got to a point where money wasn’t the most important thing anymore. I wanted to build something useful. I wanted to build something that was going to be useful for people and the world.”

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