Pushing This Green Button Will Lower Your Power Bill

Let's take a closer look at the Green Button and see if it is more than just an adult toy. According to Obama and other government supporters, the Green button is going viral. Ya, right, I don't believe it.

There has been several efforts in previous years to get power companies to "sign on" to programs that allow electric and gas customers to see how much energy they are using right there and then. The theory is that households that have energy usage data readily available will use that information to conserve energy.

Even Google, with a program they called Google Powermeter, entered the real time energy usage arena and tried to get power companies to sign up. Power companies were slow to accept the powermeter program and Google cancelled the program back in 2011.

Now, with the help of former White House CTO ( Chief Technology Office ) Aneesh Chopra, the Green Button is trying to standardize the technology for reporting real time energy usage to power company customers. This means one program across the US with the same technology.

So far, the Green Button program has signed up some big power companies. Most of the companies in California are on board and more recently American Electric Power, Austin Energy, Baltimore Gas and Electric, CenterPoint Energy, Commonwealth Edison, NSTAR, PECO, Reliant and Virginia Dominion Power. With a total service area of over 27 million households, the Green Button is getting a good initiation.

With the common technical platform, third party entrepreneurs are being encouraged to develop innovative applications as though the Button was a cell phone or iPod.

What does all this mean to the average consumer?

1. It means that you need a smart meter first. No smart meter, no green button.

2. It means that if your electric company sees enough benefit in the Green Button for them, they may go ahead and sign up.

3. It means that if your electric company signs up, they may offer the Green Button Program to you.

4. It means that if you sign up for the program, you will be able to get real time energy usage data on your computer or other connected device, iPod, smart phone, etc.

5. It also means, that as time goes by, third party applications will become available and you will be encouraged by those companies to purchase their app's. Now that sounds like a smart phone for sure.

6. It also means that you can compare electric companies, rate plans, and time-of-use data more effectively. There maybe a better power company for you.

Could Spread Nationwide

Rep. Ed Markey ( D-MA ) has written legislation that he is calling e-Know. This legislation ( Electric Consumers Right to Know Act ) would require all electric providers to make electrical data available to their customers. Markey said,

"But energy information shouldn't be something that only a small portion of American households have access to. All Americans should have the right to access their energy data so that they can better reduce energy waste and shrink their bills. That's why I will soon be introducing legislation that would require all electricity companies to make this information available to their customers."

Green Button and an Energy Saving Contest

The green Button is so excited about third party applications being developed that the Energy Department is sponsoring a contest. The contest begun in April and is offering a $100,000 prize to the winner. If you had a Green Button app that link your iPhone to your clothes dryer and you could set the dryer to run when electric power was the cheapest, that would really be an app that could lower a power bill.

How Does Green Button Energy Savings Work for You and Me?

So, if the Green button program is available to you and you have registered with your power company to take part in the program, you can log into your electrical account with your power company and there will actually be a green button on the screen. Click on the Green Button and the computer will take you to the pages that are displaying your energy usage right at that time of day.

The you will be able to compare the current usage with other days and other times during the day.

Now you have some choices to make , for example.

1. Should you turn the thermostat up a few degrees because it appears the air conditioner is using a lot of power right now?

2. Should you call home and ask the kids why the electric oven has been on for 20 minutes?

3. Should you really concentrate on saving power between 5 PM and 8 PM because those are your highest usage times that cost you the most per kilowatt hour?

4. Should you consider installing that heat pump you've always wanted because every time the electric furnace kicks on the usage goes through the roof?

5. After watching the furnace cycle on and off 40 times a day, should you reconsider air sealing the attic and adding insulation?

Looking for Green Button App

It is true I believe, that the Green Button program does provide an opportunity to conserve power. It may well be true that knowledge is power and in this case, the knowledge of real time power usage provides the power to save power.

Of course, the success of the Green Button will depend on how much the button is actually used. Will it be a situation like so many others that the newness and excitement wears off in a hurry. How many hot tubs have been installed only to be used a few times and then drained for winter and never refilled.

How many water beds were set up and enjoyed as the best thing in beds ever and then after a year of rolling around and two water leaks later, were drained and stored in the garage.

I think the Green Button on your power company website will go the way of the waterbed and hot tub - a good idea, exciting and useful for awhile, but not an everyday, usable advantage.

The applications for the Green Button program that will involve iPhones, iPods and kindles, is another story. The advantages of being on the go and monitoring and adjusting the energy efficiency of your home is more than an adult toy and more than a passing fancy.

Do you have a Smart meter installed at you home? If you do, call your power company and ask them where the Green Button is. As soon as you can, sign up for the green Button program and then wait for the app's that will change your idea of home energy efficiency forever.

Thank you for stopping by detectenergy.com, hope there is a green button in your future, but I won't leave the lights on for you...  Don Ames, feel free to join me at detectenergy.com and register for my free e-newsletter, the Energy Spy Insider.

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Tags: button, companies, conservation, energy, green, home, power, savings


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Comment by Tom DelConte on August 12, 2012 at 9:52pm

I still use my 1975 HP Engineering Calculator. I still use my 2009 iphone. I still use my purchased new 1969 harman kardon amplifier. I still use my waterbed. I still use my purchased new 1974 Fiat X1/9. i still run 5 miles per day. I also still use my 2007 efficient hot tub. I still live in my home built 1991, and still own and use my original home built 1980. Many things are just that, timeless.

I will use green button forever, as soon as,and as long as they give it to me!

Comment by Bob Blanchette on August 11, 2012 at 12:02pm

IHD is In Home Display. It connects to the smartmeter through zigbee and gives live info on power use. Some even record the data on the device itself.

Comment by Don Ames on August 10, 2012 at 7:33pm

Bob, thanks for the additional information, for myself and I assume others, what is a IHD? Thanks again, 

Comment by Bob Blanchette on August 10, 2012 at 6:44pm

The pulled meters are recycled, I know this because we do it at our shop. Glass is broken off and the metal is recycled.

The data on our smartmeters has about a 1hr delay and is in 15 minute increments. Consumers like logging in and monitoring energy use.

Live data is available if you have an IHD which you must purchase separately. I have one on my system and find the info very useful.

Comment by Rodney Fox on August 9, 2012 at 2:39pm

I agree with Bryce completely. Snazzy as it might seem, I doubt it would get used effectively.

I'm not sure why this is even being considered as a legislative mandate for power companies.

I like to think we're ultimately a self-reliant species, if we are to survive. There are already a good handful of energy monitoring devices out there that will do what the Green Button is proposing. How about offering those up at a significant discount? As an auditor, I use and recommend the Powersave EnviR with web bridge option which enables me to put CT clamps on any circuit I want to monitor which then uploads the data to a website of my choice and I can literally see in near real-time what is going on in a house, with graphical options up the kazoo for displaying the data.

I think this initiative is a dead end. If a consumer wants to monitor their individual circuits or whole house load, they should look into these options and be proactive and self-reliant themselves... of course they could also just go OFF the grid, focus on energy efficiency, and problem solved...

As for smart meters... does anyone else find this to be a huge and wasteful effort which subsequently enables the utility companies to leverage this data to their advantage? Of course it will! We're crazy to think that they would spend the time and energy replacing millions of meters if it isn't in their best interest. And what happens to all those yanked meters? Just more gadgetry and junk destined for the over-flowing landfills.

Comment by Bryce Cramer on August 8, 2012 at 10:50am

I agree with the comment about not being real time usage data, but I have always questioned the concept of smart appliances being controlled remotely. Let's look at the clothes dryer. First of all, I have not seen an automatic loading dryer out there yet. So, it takes human interaction to load it. Do we really think folks will load the machine in the morning, then go to work and watch their app for the lowest price during the day and then start the machine? Maybe once or twice, but then most will realize they should either do the laundry on the weekend or early morning anyway when pricing is down. Turning lights off remotely--daa.....turn them off when you leave the home. HVAC control....put a programable thermostat on so it does not take human interaction (which means it will be forgotten) and let the thermostat control it all day, every day. All of this sounds good, but stop and think how many energy audits you've done with recommendations that could really save them energy and how many actually follow through with action and improvements. My experience has been that unless they are getting paid to make improvements, they just won't take the time or spend the money on their own.

Many times we as energy professionals who do attempt to save energy in our personnel lives project that same interest/desire onto others. Sadly, many (most) don't have that same savings/green desire. They just want the utility to lower the rate so they can continue to live as they always have.

I agree with David's comment about MPG info in automobiles. For years, I,ve watched my tachometer and attempt to stay under 2,000 rpm when leaving stop lights/signs. In town, I'm getting blown off the rode leaving the stop light to only be sitting next to them at the next one. I wish I knew how much gas they just drank compated to me. The reality is, you give people the information, but that does not necessarily correlate to action on their part. Even $4.00 gas didn't slow people down.


Comment by Kevin Strong on August 7, 2012 at 2:14am

Don, Good article, though one major correction needed: Green Button data is NOT real time.  It is typically at least a day old, and is hourly interval data.  Here in California, the residential smart meters have one reading taken per hour, and then these are typically only uploaded over the smart grid to the utility in batches.  I think every 8 hours at minimum, if not only once per day, and then only made available to customers the day after.  My understanding is that this is the way most smart meters will work nationwide.  The smart grid is not designed for real-time data coming from smart meters, PLUS, that would be a massive privacy concern.  Even the hourly data is still a significant privacy concern, and some states including California have already legislation in place regarding privacy of user's energy consumption data.

So Green Button on mobile devices is useless for managing real time consumption and energy efficiency.  But it is still very useful for looking at your historical energy trends, though with the limitation of one hour granularity,  Much better than your monthly bill, but not as effective as real-time data in helping consumers to understand their energy usage.

The real time data will be available to consumer owned Home Area Network devices, via the ZigBee radio in the smart meters, though these ZigBee radios and the real-time service have not been enabled yet, except in small trials.

Our EnergyBuddy home energy management system (http://www.indiegogo.com/EnergyBuddy?c=home&a=697417, http://www.energy-buddy.com) will have a version for connecting with smart meters for gathering the real-time data.   And we do have mobile apps for remote monitoring and control in real-time.

Green Button is useful for syncing such home energy management systems with the utility billing info, and we plan to offer such feature in the future via a cloud services upgrade to our system.

Comment by Jose Macho on August 6, 2012 at 4:02pm

The Green Buttopn is a good first step, but as Dave commented, it may not change behavior. What will be the bigger challege is using the grid to manage a smart appliance. You may remember some years ago the utilities talked about IP over the transmission lines and found issues with maintaining signal through the power distribution transformers. Sure, load an app on your smart phone, but today that has to go through the carriers network to your house router and then to a smart appliance or simple remote on/off. Today there are many wireless modems that could be easily retrofitted to the appliance but the cost/payback is not there. Plus having a universal standard protocol developed...Smart Grid?? remember, you have to tell the utility when your power is out- the utility company today cannot proactively monitor/alert when your power goes out...

Comment by George Kopf on August 6, 2012 at 12:14pm

As an energy efficiency industry professional, I love the Green Button.  My utility provider (PG&E) signed on and I recently accessed my Green Button for the first time.  Once I realized I had this info at my fingertips, I took two immediate actions:

  1. I unplugged my TED (The Energy Detective).  While my TED has given me awesome real-time usage info, I couldn't justify the additional baseload any more.  Sorry TED!
  2. I actually vacuumed the coils on my fridge.  I know, I know.  I should have been doing that all along but the reality is that until I saw my baseload/seasonal consumption plotted so nicely for me, I hadn't been inspired to actually take more action to lower my baseload.

And, ultimately, that's what programs like Green Button are all about:  getting consumers to take action, change behavior and lower energy consumption.  I know I am only one but here's a test-case where I would say, "Job well done - what you're doing is working." 

May not seem like much but then I am reminded of this quote:  "You know that ground you are gaining inch by inch?  That's called winning."

Kudos Green Button!

Comment by David Eakin on August 6, 2012 at 11:38am

While it is true that "you can't manage what you don't measure", it is quite often the case - especially with large bureaucracies like the Federal government - that you can invest all sorts of resources into measuring things without any intent on managing them.  Just because a Green Button might be available, and certain homeowners elect to obtain electric power utilization (especially if it is a no-cost decision), does not mean that they will be changing their energy usage patterns.  Many automobiles have had an instantaneous miles-per-gallon dash display; did it change anyone's driving habits?  Probably not - I know I didn't when one of our vehicles had this info (but it was real cool to see 65mpg going downhill).

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