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White House announces public-private partnership to reduce energy consumption

On March 22, the Obama administration announced the Green Button Initiative, an industry-led program to provide consumers with electronically accessible energy data.

Similar to online banking, the Green Button allows consumers to see their energy consumption levels online in an easy-to-understand format.

At present, consumers can click the green button on a utility’s website to see their energy consumption data (you can see it at Pacific Gas & Electric). But 21 technology firms have committed to developing smart-phone applications with the same functionality.

According to the Green Button website, the program will allow consumers to “make more informed energy decisions, optimize the size and cost-effectiveness of solar panels for their home, or verify that energy-efficiency retrofit investments are performing as promised.”

“Empowering American families to shrink their own utility bills is an important part of this Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy,” said Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.


Credit: greenbuttondata.org


“With new online tools made possible by the Green Button, families will have easy access to information on how they can reduce their energy use and put more money in their pocket.”

This project goes back to 2010, when President Obama unveiled the Blue Button. Launched by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Blue Button allows consumers to download information about their healthcare plans and share it health providers and care givers.

Then in September 2011, US Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra called on utilities to develop a Green Button. “With this information at their fingertips, consumers would be enabled to make more informed decisions about their energy use and, when coupled with opportunities to take action, empowered to actively manage their energy use,” said Chopra.

“[M]aking this information available—in simple standard formats—will help spur innovative new consumer applications and devices from entrepreneurs, big companies, and even students,” he continued.

“The Green Button is a milestone in a much larger story about transparency and empowering citizens, a narrative which resonates with Americans who want to build a future around sustainability and equity,” said Adam James, a Special Assistant on the Energy Policy Team at the Center for American Progress.

So far, 15 utilities and energy suppliers have joined the voluntary initiative, providing access to consumption information to an estimated 27 million households. The Green Buttons are based on a common technical standard, which ensures that software developers have a large enough market to warrant creating innovative apps.

The Department of Energy simultaneously announced the Apps for Energy contest for the development of energy-related apps, with $100,000 in cash prizes.

“Our top priority is to help consumers save money on their energy bills by providing them with easy access to data on how they use energy in their homes,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “Apps for Energy will challenge our nation’s talented software developers to create apps that provide energy usage data in the most comprehensive and accessible formats.”

Learn more about the Green Button Initiative here.

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