The Green Button initiative, which gives customers access to their energy consumption data, is gathering steam as three California utilities announced in January they are offering the standardized energy use data to more than 10 million customers.  The initial announcement by San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and Pacific Gas & Electric was followed by Glendale Power and Water, and Pepco Holdings, Inc., which said it will provide the streamlined data by summer of 2012 as it continues to deploy smart meters in its service area.

Green Button is a voluntary program that launched in September 2011 by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The Office believes easy access to data, and data that is available in standardized formats, will spur the private sector to develop applications and devices that empower consumers to monitor and control their usage — a radical change from the status quo where most consumers receive an aggregated bill for monthly usage weeks later.  United States Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra imagines possible innovations that range from allowing remotely controlled air conditioners to smart phone apps that make customized conservation recommendations based on individual use patterns.

The Green Button initiative was inspired in part by the success of the Blue Button initiative, a Veteran’s Administration effort to allow vet’s direct access to their health records.

There are some early signs that Green Button-based programs have the potential to make a deep impact.  In a recent three month contest among SDG&E customers called Biggest Energy Saver, one San Diego woman was able to conserve 46.5% of her typical usage.  The contest centered around a social gaming program that made use of participant’s energy use data.  Standardized and accessible data available via the Green Button could make more of these programs possible.

Along with the promise of innovation, however, comes privacy concerns.

Consumers may not want third party developers to have access to their energy use.  PG&E, one of the pioneering utilities to adopt the Green Button standard, takes the position that consumers will decide which applications and companies have access to their energy usage data. PG&E will not give third parties access to the data. Instead, the utility now requires consumers to download their usage file and then upload it to an application or company.

Credit: Green Button, the proposed logo.