White House’s Green Button Gets Big Buy-In

What if American homeowners could see the detailed breakdown of their energy costs as clearly as they could see the items they buy grocery shopping? Would Americans try harder to save if they could see exactly where their money was going?

That was the idea of the Green Button, launched this January by a group of utilities and electricity suppliers in response to a White House call to action: “Consumers should have access to their energy usage information.  It should be easily downloadable and in an easy-to-read format offered by their utility or retail energy service provider,” U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra wrote on the White House blog last September.

image via U.S. General Services Administration

The “button” is a growing collection of new Web and smartphone tools that allow consumers to see a clear and detailed lists of what they are buying from their utility and how much it costs at any given time. One application even allows consumers to compete against Facebook friends to save energy and lower their carbon emissions.

The button might show consumers that a broken basement radiator is drawing exhorbitant amounts of power, or it might alert them that the air conditioner is broken and running during the day. It could also help consumers who have already installed rooftop solar panels optmize their use of the green energy they produce. The Green Button will also allow consumers to pass their detailed energy data reports onto third-party companies that will consumers develop custom energy savings programs.

The initiative has already been launched by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Southern California Edison, Oncor, Pepco Holdings and Glendale Water and Power. PG&E and SDG&E have already made the program live on their websites. In March, PG&E reported that since the program launch in December 2011, 220,000 downloads have been executed from the Green Button portal.

Although the program initially aimed to reach 12 million households by the end of 2012, an additional 15 million households were added to the mix this March when nine additional utilities announced plans to join the program, including American Electric Power, Austin Energy, Baltimore Gas and Electric, CenterPoint Energy, Commonweath Edison, NSTAR, PECO, Reliant and Virginia Dominion Power.

“The Green Button initiative drives innovation in energy management in ways we cannot even imagine yet. A 15 percent reduction in electricity consumption by 2020 can save consumers $46 billion on energy bills or $360 per customer per year, and it is the equivalent of 35 million cars off the roads. It really is satisfying to see a simple idea – that had initially seemed complicated to implement – starting to make tangible progress,” Molly Webb, head of smart technologies at the Climate Group said in a statement.

Shifra Mincer is a freelance journalist and passionate tweeter (@Shiframincer) currently living in Israel. Before moving to Israel to apprentice with a homebirth midwife, Shifra worked as Associate Editor of AOL Energy, and was a member of the launch team that got the site up and running. Shifra has over a half a decade of experience in journalism and has written on women's health, green technology, politics and regulation of the energy industry, energy financial news, and local news. While studying for her B.A. at Harvard College, Shifra worked as a news editor for the Harvard Crimson. Shifra is also a yoga teacher and a birth doula and is hoping to create an active Jewish birth community through her web venture www.layda.org.