How Green Button Could Change the Face of the Smart Grid

April 11, 2012
By

An iPad app works with a Honeywell thermostat and can show Green Button data. Click on the photo to see a video of Green Button possibilities.

The recent Green Button initiative, in which consumers can get their energy usage information from their utility’s web sites, could spark more than a lot of cool energy-efficiency apps now being developed around the information.

It could mark an inflection point in delivering energy efficiency services via the so-called smart grid, says Cameron Brooks, vice president of policy for smart grid software company Tendril.

So far, about 16 utilities representing about 27 million customers have signed on to provide Green Button data, and numerous apps have been developed in a hackathons like one in New York that saw 15 energy-efficiency apps created in one caffeine-fueled weekend (though some of the apps do not rely on Green Button data).

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is even sponsoring an Apps for Energy contest with a purse of $100,000 for the best energy-efficient apps, and Tendril has created a Green Button Connect web site for consumers to upload their energy usage info and browse applications. Tendril’s developer site provides a toolkit of APIs developers to build applications. Tendril said it is adding about 100 developers a month.

New Face of Smart Grid?

Apps like eMotivator, where individuals are rewarded to energy-efficient behavior, and Green Carrot, which informs users of their energy info and allows them to compete with friends on Facebook, are a good start—and many more energy-efficient apps will no doubt follow. Some may even capture the general public’s attention.

But what may result from all of this may be a shift in the way state regulators view the role of energy efficiency delivered by smart grid services.

Tendril’s Brooks says that in last couple of months, he’s seen state regulators beginning to look at smart meter deployments and ask how they can start initiating the things that these technologies were made for, such as dynamic pricing like Time of Use that varies rates throughout the day so peak load periods are more expensive.

“One of the poorest held assumptions is that the smart meter is the gateway into the home, where we have mobile and broadband into the home [as well],” says Brooks.

After all, people are starting to download their energy usage data via Green Button on the web. This information is not coming through smart meters. And some utilities may opt to send smart grid data through the Internet rather than via the smart meter.

And some states are starting to ask how they can use the smart meter infrastructure to enable a marketplace that brings better and innovative energy-efficiency services.

In other words, utilities may provide the smart grid backbone, but they don’t have to provide the energy-efficiency services. Many utilities, too, may hedge on providing in-home networks that enable smart grid services, opting to limit their services to the meter and no farther.

Brooks says we may see some states move to auction-like systems to procure energy efficiency services, rather than try to do that through regulated monopolies like utilities.

“The slowdown in the economy has driven a reduction in overall energy usage, making traditional utility rate structures obsolete,” he says. And that is forcing a re-examination of utility responsibility.

Stay tuned. The Smart Grid just got a lot more interesting.

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