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White House 'Green Button' Initiative Eyes Electricity Savings

Effort to help people manage electricity usage expands, with backing from nine utilities, a developer challenge from the DOE, and third-party Web and mobile apps.

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A White House call for power companies to help people in the United States better manage their energy usage and electricity bill is expanding with new support from the private sector and government agencies.

Nine new utilities and electricity suppliers now allow people to view their electricity usage electronically via the Green Button initiative, so-named because it allows people to see this information by clicking a green button on a website, government officials said in a Green Button effort by making their customers' energy-usage information available on their websites so people can quickly make informed decisions about how to better use their power.

[ What about the feds' energy habits? See How Many Lightbulbs Does Uncle Sam Use?. ]

The move was part of a larger open-data strategy announced by President Obama on his first day of office that has been the linchpin of the administration's efforts to promote government transparency.

The feds modeled Green Button after a similar initiative called Blue Button that lets people click a button online to view their personal health data and share it with healthcare providers and other trusted health partners.

The DOE's Apps for Energy challenge--which will go live on the Challenge.gov website April 5 and is co-sponsored by PG&E and Itron--will offer a $100,000 grand prize to the best application that leverages open energy data to help people use electricity and other power utilities more effectively. The DOE also Thursday launched an online map enabling U.S. utilities to show the progress they're making to provide customers access to energy data in standard data and computer formats. Nine new companies have joined the Green Button effort, meaning that more than 15 million Americans can now view their energy usage online. The new companies are: American Electric Power in the South and Midwest; three Texas utilities--Austin Energy, Reliant, and CenterPoint Energy; Baltimore Gas and Electric, in Maryland; Commonwealth Edison in Illinois; NSTAR in Massachusetts; PECO in Pennsylvania; and Virginia Dominion Power in Virginia and North Carolina.

Like others before them, the utilities have based their buttons on a common technical standard developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) so the data is easily accessible and can be used by their parties to develop new applications, according to the White House.

This data also is spawning new Web and smartphone applications from the private sector that help people perform a number of energy efficiency-related actions, such as choose the most economical rate plan for their usage patterns; choose the correct size for and finance rooftop solar panels; and create a more energy-efficient lifestyle. Companies that said Thursday they are developing applications or services to support the Green Button project include Belkin, Efficiency 2.0, EnergySavvy, FirstFuel, Honest Buildings, Lucid, Plotwatt, Schneider-Electric, Simple Energy, and Sunrun, according to the White House.

As federal agencies embrace devices and apps to meet employee demand, the White House seeks one comprehensive mobile strategy. Also in the new Going Mobile issue of InformationWeek Government: Find out how the National Security Agency is developing technologies to make commercial devices suitable for intelligence work. (Free registration required.)

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