Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Green Button value proposition in action

By Patty Durand, Executive Director, SGCC

Last month we held our fourth SGCC webinar of the year on “Green Button One Year Later,” and I would like to call attention to the encouraging news we presented.  If you are a member you can access it here

One of our two panelists, Chris Irwin, smart grid standards and interoperability coordinator for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, provided impressive numbers on the uptake of the Green Button program. The program’s initial phase, Download My Data, was launched in January 2012 and allowed consumers to obtain their energy use data from their utility, something never previously possible. And yet by the next month six utilities representing seven million customers had adopted the program. Then in October 2012, the DOE launched Connect My Data, which enabled consumers to allow a third party to receive direct access to their energy data in order to provide analytics and value-added insights on that usage. Just over a year later, by December 2013, 48 utilities representing 42 million customers had adopted the two programs. That is fantastic!

But, what do we know about actual uptake by real consumers?  Our second panelist, Karen Lefkowitz, vice president for business transformation at Pepco Holdings, Inc., said that her utility has seen a steady increase in uptake, though participants remain a relatively small percentage of its overall customer base. Five hundred customers signed up for Green Button downloads in Q1 2013 and by Q4 that number had reached 3,000. Lefkowitz noted that these are early adopters who also influence family, friends and neighbors. In other words, Pepco has planted a seed. Pepco is following up with a similar program for commercial customers to drive investments in energy efficiency and participation in demand response and peak load management programs.

Because Pepco, which operates in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., does not own generation and all four service areas incentivize energy efficiency to meet their goals, Pepco is in a “sweet spot” to empower its customers via the Green Button program, Lefkowitz said.

She added that Pepco encourages the development of third-party apps, which brings in another important point. It is the apps that make practical sense of Green Button-enabled data and will translate that data into insights and actionable intelligence for consumers to realize value from the program.

The Green Button page on SGCC’s consumer website, What Is Smart Grid?, has good information for app developers on how to write apps for Green Button and it provides tools and the means for self-testing those apps. While the DOE has run app contests called Apps for Energy to encourage innovation in this space, the competition is closed. The submissions show an impressive array of creativity and consumer empowerment. See the six winners and all the submissions here.

And that brings me to my final point. During our webinar Lefkowitz was asked about practical impacts from the Green Button program. Throughout the history of the power industry, she said, consumers have received a monthly bill after the fact, without a clear connection between their actions and their bill. Now, with Green Button data and, presumably, a handy app or two, Pepco customers will be empowered to determine their energy-related behavior based on data. Whether that leads them to use more or less energy or use it at different times is less relevant than the fundamental connection between energy use data and subsequent behavior, Lefkowitz said.

In my view, that is a solid foundation for consumer engagement. We continue to research consumer engagement and empowerment and, now, the Green Button and related apps are making it happen. 

I hope if you are a utility you will join Pepco and others by offering energy data to your consumer base, and I hope soon we all will access an app that is supported with energy data from our own households. That sounds like the future, but it’s here now.