Green Button hits a beta stride

It’s easy being green at SDG&E

Published In: Intelligent Utility Magazine July / August 2013

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Green means go. It’s also the color of money. And, as Kermit taught us, it’s not an easy color to be—though it sure did appear easy when he sang about it (and natural). Green has a lot of cultural incarnations, but one of its newest ones is a button that incorporates all three of those green meanings: activity, savings and an eye on nature.

Well, not a literal button, but more of a figurative one---the Green Button initiative. If you’ve been in this business for a while and attended a few industry conferences, you may have heard this initiative chatted about. But, what it is?

Bottom line: It’s an attempt to make customer access and customer data a plug-and-play experience across the board. In the area of digital access, utilities are still siloed and developing a lot of their own gadgets. Yet, on my smartphone, I can check into my flight, figure out who sang a song on the radio or discover if I’m smarter than a 5th grader all with the same tech system—namely, an app.

So, Green Button can be thought of as an app for the customer data within a utility. They can download it, parcel it, contemplate it—all in a single, simple, easy-to use format.

Green Button began as a White House call to action and is supported by the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. It’s a voluntary program that’s getting some good buy-in from a number of utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric.

Moving from a general Green Button overview down to the devil in the details, let’s take an in-depth look at one particular utility’s use of Green Button, namely San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E). An early adopter/participant in this Initiative, SDG&E has a simple page under “my accounts” dedicated to explaining Green Button to consumers (http://www.sdge.com/green-button). On this page, customers can learn a bit about Green Button’s background, sign up for an account, download up to 13 months of their personal use data and even connect their data to third parties through downloadable applications.

The basics of SDG&E’s program aside, we wanted to know more about the details. How’s the Initiative working out in sunny San Diego? How many customers are participating? Is that more of less than originally expected? What are customers saying about the Initiative, if anything? How does this fit into the utility’s overall smart grid plan?

So, we knocked on the door of Lee Krevat, SDG&E’s smart grid guru, to find some answers.

How’s the Initiative working out in sunny San Diego?

Krevat: The SDG&E customer programs and projects team has done a great job of moving beyond Green Button Download My Data to Green Button Connect My Data, which delivers an easy-to-leverage platform that connects customers to third parties of their choice. We already have five third parties enabled and are looking forward to many more over the next few months, with possibly up to 20 expected by the end of the year.

The apps currently available (as of May 17, 2013) for SDG&E customers include PowerTools by Candi Controls, SolarCity’s Solar Home Energy Graph, EnergyAi™, Ergy by Echo Labs, Energy Hub and, in the near future, Ecova’s Meter Dashboard, to receive and analyze their energy data automatically. These apps enable customers to manage their personal energy use from their mobile device, learn how much of their energy could come from the sun, and identify energy savings opportunities in commercial, retail, institutional and industrial facilities, and view and compare energy use at their business sites.

How many customers are participating?

Krevat: The initial Green Button Connect My Data application (PowerTools) was funded by SDG&E and developed by Candi Controls. Four other third parties have been added and the SDG&E customer team is working with many more, with approximately 20 expected by the end of the year. Although usage numbers are in the thousands currently, we expect new functionality, new applications on more platforms, and new time-of-use rates being deployed late this year, to stimulate further interest by customers in energy management tools.

While the industry still awaits the “killer app” to engage customers, the Green Button Download My Data and Green Button Connect My Data platforms enable third parties, from large companies to high school students located anywhere in the world, to make the breakthrough that transforms the relationship between people and their use of energy. There is limitless potential.

Is that more or less than originally expected?

Krevat: We are about where we expected to be at this point, but we have learned that we must be consistent is our messaging and support of new technologies and tools. Last summer, we deployed our Reduce Your Use program, which rewarded customers with rebates when they conserved energy during critical peak usage. As the summer went on, the number of customers signing up for proactive texts and emails grew from zero to approximately 50,000. Combining these alerts with usage information is very powerful.

What are customers saying about the Initiative, if anything?

Krevat: Customers who have embraced the concept have been very excited about having access to their data. They are looking forward to potential future apps that can integrate pricing, send alerts when energy usage surpasses customer-defined thresholds, and aid in the comparison of price plans, and help educate them on the impact of adding photovoltaic solar to their rooftop or an electric vehicle to their garage.

How does this fit into the utility’s overall smart grid plan?

Krevat: Last year, SDG&E released a new logo. The major change was to add the word “connected.” Nothing is more important than being connected to our customers and serving them safely, reliably and efficiently. Our focus on modernizing the grid (SDG&E’sSmart Grid Deployment Plan) is our technology strategy for delivering on this mission. The Green Button platforms allow any app developer across the world to create tools that will help increase consumer engagement with energy use data. The Green Button standard isn’t just critical for SDG&E’s smart grid plan; it is critical to SDG&E and the entire utility industry.

And one last question: How do you think Green Button will impact consumers over the next 10 or 20 years overall?

Krevat: In the next 10 to 20 years, we will likely see tens of millions of electric vehicles sold across the globe. Distributed energy resources from solar to fuel cells to advanced energy storage will continue to decline in price and be common place in individual homes, businesses, and as part of the electric grid. Whether or not the term “Green Button” is forgotten, what will go on is the legacy of data-based customer energy management. Premise energy management systems will automatically leverage robust energy data sets, prices, complex analytics, and an ever-increasing number of assets that rely on carbon-free electric energy to optimized energy usage on behalf of energy “prosumers.”

An expanded version of this article was originally published as a two-part series online at Intel’s Grid Insights microsite within Energy Central. Read more at gridinsights.energycentral.com.

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