By: Jordan Hall
The Green Button is unleashing a new wave of innovation for energy management. Green Button is the idea that electricity customers should have the ability to securely download easy to understand energy usage information from their utility or electricity supplier. With this information, consumers can use a growing array of new web and smartphone tools to make more informed energy decisions, optimize the size and cost-effectiveness of solar panels for their home, or verify that energy-efficiency retrofit investments are performing as promised.
Green Button is an industry-led effort that responds to a White House call to action: provide electricity customers with easy access to their energy usage data in a consumer-friendly and computer-friendly format via a “Green Button” or electric utilities’ website. Initially launched in January, utilities committed to provide Green Button capability to nearly 12 million households in 2012. Two utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric, have implemented live functionality on their websites. Nine major utilities and electricity suppliers recently signed on to the initiative, committing to provide more than 15 million households secure access to their energy data with only one click of an online Green Button.
The U.S. Department of Energy recently ran an ‘apps for energy contest’ to help encourage the design of apps that will use Green Button data to help consumers lower their energy consumption. Cash awards were handed out to the top winners for the most compelling mobile and internet energy applications.
The Apps for Energy contest was announced in April and there were 56 entrants to the competition, covering a wide range of applications, such as calculations for plug-in vehicles and innovative solar demand response to reduce your home energy load by unplugging idle electronics. The contest judges were wowed by the quality and diversity of the contest applicants and had a difficult time selecting the prize winners.
Leafully, a company whose app was designed to help customers visualize energy use in terms of trees, took first place and the grand prize of $30,000. The app allows users to log into their Facebook accounts to compare energy usage and savings with their friends. The app was created by Timothy Edgar and Nathan Jhaveri, software engineers from Microsoft working on the Bing search engine who created the app as a side project.
Melon Power targeted the commercial market with an app that helps building managers input their energy usage and deliver and ENERGY STAR score for their buildings. Although most other entries focused on residential apps, Melon Power’s commercial app was able to take second place with a prize of $15,000. Many cities and local municipalities now mandate building owners to provide ENERGY STAR data, which provides Melon Power the opportunity to help commercial owners speed through the process and benchmark their energy use against other buildings.
New York based VELObill by Zerofootprint won third place in the competition as the leading app for utility bill visualization. VELObill is said to be the utility bill of the future, specifically for Green Button applications. Beyond its engaging, user-friendly interface, a unique feature of VELObill is its cross-platform, which combines Green Button data with other sources allowing peer-to-peer benchmarking and healthy competition. It presents you with an entire energy picture – how much you spend on gas, water and electricity, whether it went up or down from last period, how you compare to your peers and what you could potentially save. It also goes a step further to show you how you can save, who can provide help and offers tools to manage your plan of action.
Todd Park, the newly appointed White House CTO, believes that the commercial building market is a huge opportunity for energy apps. “Commercial building owners don’t necessarily depend on incentives from the utility to lower energy use. They’re more inclined to identify cost savings and data can help empower them to do so,” Park said.
Park believes the first stage of Green Button development is just the beginning. He envisions a future where energy vendors will compete in offline or online marketplaces. By comparing the energy market to the early stages of data-focused internet businesses such as Travelocity or Amazon, he sees how “liberating energy data has the potential to create entirely new modes of service and customer valuation … going way beyond apps on an iPhone.”
Do you believe Park’s predictions are accurate? Only time will tell and something tells me it won’t take long to find out.
Jordan Hall is an enthusiastic marketing professional and is responsible for marketing strategies at Energy Advantage Inc.