"Green Button" Project is a Breath of Fresh Air

Posted by Philip Henderson on February 13, 2012
Philip Henderson.

My electricity bill looks like it was designed to confuse customers. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in feeling this way. Fees with seven decimal places, a "multiplier," distribution, transmission, generation charges, a single "kwh" usage amount. My home address is listed in four seperate places. There are TEN different phone numbers listed (yes, 10). The only aspect of my electricity usage that is clear is the amount I owe for it.

I'm sure there are many reasons I should not show my bill here, but it's useful to show what I'm referring to. (See photo below.) 

One section looks like it was intended to be useful -– a “Usage History” table. But it has billing periods of different lengths and the periods start in the middle of the month. It only shows a lump-sum "kwh" total for each month.  

If my bill were entered in a Worst Utility Bill contest, it probably would not win -- I’ve seen some that are worse.

This is NOT to denigrate my utility company – it is a POWER company, after all, not a design shop. 

This is why the Green Button Project  is so interesting and important. It’s based on a simple concept –- give the customer his or her utility billing information in a form that actually usable. Click a green button on the utility's website and billing data is delivered and can be used by various "apps." With my data, I will be able to use any billing presentation system I want -- I can find the one that suits me best. (Can't you hear the iPhone developers tapping away to create cool new tools?)

The Green Button will prove to be a catalyst to innovation. "Killer apps" will follow once the data is available. (I love the term killer app. I recently read the Steve Jobs bio and have been hoping to use that term in this blog...)

Making data available is the essential first step to enabling innovation in this area. Smart teams can create better ways to make sense of utility information for the customer. It can be usefully combined with other data sources, like property information -- the proverbial "mash up" -- to deliver new insights. Companies like OPower have already made great strides in this area, changing the way many utility companies think about information presentation and innovating. Tendril has announced intentions to offer tools and services using the Green Button functionality.  

If there's a mortgage lender out there interested in genuinely better underwriting, a loan applicant's energy expenses are only a click away for refi loans. For home sellers, delivering a year of energy expenses to a Realtor or homebuyer is a click away.  

The Green Button Project was announced recently by the White House – it’s a project led by Aneesh Chopra’s fine team at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, by the Department of Energy, and by the North American Energy Standards Board. They all deserve credit for seeing the value of this and actually taking action. This is great work and a nice example of how government can trigger innovation.

California utilities (PG&E, S.D.Gas & Electric, and So.Cal.Edison) announced plans to implement the Green Button for their customers. And (Yes!) Pepco announced its intention to implement the Green Button (see their announcement here). Each of these utility companies deserves credit for leadership and for action. 

To all the other utilities: You should follow their leadership (your customers might love you for it).


This post originally appeared on the National Resources Defense Council's blog, which you can view here.

Philip Henderson, is a senior financial policy specialist based in Washington, D.C. He joined the NRDC’s Center of Market Innovation in May 2010 and has worked for a number of years to bring innovation to the mortgage finance industry, including at dynamic technology companies.

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