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Green Button for You, Me, and Everyone We Know
If you are in any way associated with the energy efficiency industry, you've probably heard about the Green Button initiative. In fact, if you work in EE, it would be surprising if you haven't heard of the Green Button initiative. Launched in response to a White House call-to-action to make energy information more readily available to consumers, the press releases about utility and technology partners signing on to support Green Button have been frequent and a veritable Who's Who of names in the green energy industry. Early utility adopters include Pacific Gas & Electric, NSTAR, and TXU Energy - service providers to some of the most energy-conscious customers in the country. Technology partners who signed on early include Lucid, OPower, and Tendril, and the list of innovative companies that are working with the Green Button toolkit continues to grow.
(Note: none of these are "THE Green Button")
But none of this really answers the question of what, exactly, the Green Button initiative is. It is not actually a "button", per se, but the, "common-sense idea that electricity customers should be able to securely download their own easy-to-understand energy usage information from their utility or electricity supplier." It is more of a concept based on a common technical standard developed in collaboration with NIST, the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology. What is special about Green Button is that an open data standard for consumer access to energy information didn't previously exist, but with widespread and voluntary adoption of Green Button, there is finally a chance for industry consensus.
It is a little confusing, so let's think of it in another way: we all know what a USB port is, right? We use USB (or Universal Serial Bus) ports on the side of our computer to plug in nearly every peripheral device that we need, including our keyboard, mouse, digital cameras, and even other disk drives. It's how we sync and sometimes even charge our smart phones. The USB has become so commonplace that earlier this week, Apple released its new line of MacBook Pro laptops with no DVD/CD drives... this ultra-modern laptop now has little more than a power source and USB ports with which to exchange data.
But let's think back to the mid-1990's, before USB became an industry standard. Hardware companies were working overtime to develop products to go along with personal computers. But how did they connect? If hardware and desktop computer companies didn't have the USB port and plug as a common denominator upon which to develop products and exchange data, we might today be faced with a staggering array of outlets on the sides of our computer, and a maddening selection of plugs for our devices.
Getting one's personal energy information, then, is a little bit like staring at the back of your desktop computer just before the USB port came along. Utilities have done a good job of providing their customers with access to their billing histories, but in many different ways. What Green Button does is help set a standard for that energy information so that today's technology companies - just like the hardware companies in the mid-1990's - have an even playing field on which to develop their products.
In my humble opinion, that is why the Green Button "train" has so much momentum. Through the deployment of the smart grid, utilities will have much more information about how their customers use energy, and with initiatives like Green Button, they'll have a better chance of delivering this information to consumers in a meaningful way. In other words, this is a train that we should all want to be on!
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