With the advent of smart electricity meters and websites that are updated in real time, getting accurate information on how much energy your home consumes is becoming more convenient. The White House hopes that data soon will only be one click away for millions of Americans.

The Barack Obama administration announced this week that the federal government and several utility companies have agreed to participate in the Green Button initiative. The program is designed to help consumers access their household’s energy consumption data more easily and in a standardized format.

Easy Being Green

The federal government and utility companies say these so-called “green buttons” will be available in 2012 and 2013 on utility companies’ websites. Customers who want to access their data — information collected from smart meters — will be able to click a green button on their utility company’s website and securely access their household data.

The utilities and electricity suppliers making new commitments include:

American Electric Power, serving 5.3 million customers in 11 states (Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia);

Austin Energy, serving 400,000 customers in Texas;

Baltimore Gas and Electric, serving 1.2 million customers in Maryland;

CenterPoint Energy, serving 1.8 million households in Texas;

Commonwealth Edison, serving 3.4 million households in Illinois;

NSTAR, serving 1.1 million households in Massachusetts;

PECO, serving 1.4 million households in Pennsylvania;

Reliant, serving 500,000 households in Texas; and

Virginia Dominion Power, serving 2.4 million customers in Virginia and North Carolina.

 

“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.”

Nine utilities and electricity suppliers nationwide have already committed to move forward with the initiative, the White House said. Collectively these utility companies account for more than 15 million households. The companies have said they will roll out the initiative on their own timelines. 

The suppliers have agreed to base each of their Green Buttons on a common standard developed through a public-private partnership supported by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology. What the Green Button actually will look like is to be determined.

Val Jensen, senior vice president of customer operations at Commonwealth Edison — one of the participating companies — said that data can give customers a better idea of how much energy they’re using, when they’re using it and how much it’s costing them. Research has shown that by having this information in an accessible way, the customers become better at managing their energy and therefore can reduce their energy costs. 

According to Tammy Ridout, a spokeswoman for American Electric Power, said a goal of the initiative is to have the same button appear on any utility company’s website. The idea is that having the button prominently displayed should help customers access their data more easily.

“On some utility websites, the information may not always be as consumer friendly as it could be,” Ridout said.

Last year, former federal CTO Aneesh Chopra introduced the idea of the Green Button and said the concept would be modeled after the Blue Button initiative, an effort originally launched by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide people with a one-stop access point to their health information.

Roadmap to Apps

Technology companies have said they will take part in Green Button by developing applications and Web tools that utilize energy data, since that information should soon be available in a more accessible format, according to the announcement.

“So what Green Button is going to be able to do when it’s widespread and fully mature is allow an ecosystem of third-party software to take this data and bring a lot of value to the utility customers,” said Andy Frank, vice president of business development for Efficiency 2.0, a technology company that’s participating in the initiative.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.