Green Button spurs apps for customers
If used, apps open door to engagement and benefits
Among the many moving pieces of smarter grids, consider "consumer engagement" or "customer engagement" a big one.
Utilities increasingly see the potential for disintermediation to make hash of their business model, they need means to increase customer satisfaction and they sorely need customers' participation in demand side management programs.
So when various parties collaborated to create the "Green Button"—a means for nearly any utility to provide customer energy use data back to the customer—that meant a straight forward way to deliver some value to the end user. In some cases of smart meter and advanced metering infrastructure deployment, that's a regulatory mandate.
So the "Green Button," an open data standard fostered by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is one means to begin the process of engagement and open the door to engagement's benefits for both the utility and the customer.
(I won't use the term win-win or I'll be barred from journalism for life.)
Further, an apps contest run fairly recently by the U.S. Department of Energy demonstrated that crowd-sourcing useful, consumer-oriented apps can convert Green Button-enabled data into something fun and engaging for real people. This is one of the first instances I can think of where the general developer community has been tapped to aid the power industry's fundamental needs. (Of course, that community also drives disruptive forces, but that's a story for another day.)
We discussed one contest winner in "DOE's App Winner: $ Not Only Motivator." (Briefly, keep in mind that "saving money" has always been touted as a big motivator for one customer segment, but that another segment values individual contributions to a greater good, such as lowering power plant emissions by scaling back peak use. The Green Button, per its name, may well be a tool that appeals to both these segments. "Green" = enviro. Or, "Green" = paper money.)
So I was glad to receive news from the IEE, an arm of the Edison Foundation (that now articulates its acronym as "Innovation, Electricity, Efficiency) that the Green Button offers promise.
"Given that consumers, on average, spend about 6 minutes per year interacting with their electric utility, motivating them to scrutinize their home's energy consumption continues to be a tough challenge. So far, however, the Green Button initiative has been an impressive first step toward doing just that, according to a new report by IEE, an institute of the Edison Foundation."
The IEE just released a report, "Green Button: One Year Later," that spells out a few facts that might be encouraging (if you're a utility bent on engagement or a customer who wants insight into home energy management) or discouraging (if you're a smart meter foe). As always, I encourage you to read the report, as I only touch the surface in a quickie column.
Further, from IEE release yesterday:
"To date, 20 utilities representing almost 30 percent of the nation's residential customers have created, or have committed to create, a `Green Button' on their website for their customers to download their energy use info in an easy-to-understand format. And 36 technology companies are now developing apps to use the Green Button data."
I'm actually impressed with four apps touted by the IEE. One assists end-users in choosing energy rate plans that match their energy use profile. Another provides customized energy efficiency tips. Another app assists a virtual energy audit. The fourth, which seems to be a category of app, allows communities of friends to compete with each other on lowering their carbon footprint.
Skeptics may scoff, but they'll be responsible for explaining why this isn't a good thing. (I should know, I am one.) I can envision some cranky-pants claiming that this is just the current administration's attempt to shore up support for smart meters and the stimulus funding of same. Let them be cranky-pants.
Here, in reality, we are finally at the beginning of a long road of developing consumer-facing apps that bridge the divide between utilities and customers. There are other means, to be sure. But in a digital world where the smartphone or desktop offers a means to raise awareness of and enable management of personal energy use, it's a step.
Of course, offering an app and uptake and use of that app are two different things. But the kids get it and, someday, oldsters will too.
Intelligent Utility Daily