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Modeling a Green Energy Challenge after a Blue Button

Last year, the US Department of Veterans Affairs launched Blue Button, a simple, common-sense project allowing people to access and download their own health information. CTO Aneesh Chopra has challenged the smart electric grid industry to deliver on the vision of a "Green Button" to provide customers access to their energy usage information electronically.

On Monday, President Obama declared this week National Health IT Week. To kick it off, HHS Secretary Sebelius co-hosted a Consumer Health IT Summit where the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced the creation of  This new website advances the movement of enabling consumers to download their personal health data and share it with health providers, care givers, and others they trust—all by the click of a button.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs originally launched Blue Button with industry and non-profit collaboration.  It’s a simple, common-sense idea—people should be able to access and download their own health information—with the potential for a big impact.

As President Obama said in August 2010, “For the first time ever, veterans will be able to go to the VA website, click a simple blue button, and download or print your personal health records so you have them and can share with your doctor outside of the VA.”

Why can’t the same common-sense concept be applied to the energy industry with a “Green Button”?  Consumers should have access to their energy usage information.  It should be easily downloadable and in an easy-to-read format offered by their utility or retail energy service provider.

So today at GridWeek, I challenged the smart grid ecosystem to deliver on the vision of Green Button and provide customers access to their energy usage information electronically.  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.

Furthermore, making this information available—in simple standard formats—will help spur innovative new consumer applications and devices from entrepreneurs, big companies, and even students.  Imagine being able to check your air conditioner from your smartphone or having a clothes dryer that saves money for you automatically during critically hot days or simply getting some helpful customized hints on how best to save energy and money in your house or apartment.

This concept of encouraging customer access to electronic energy usage information is part of the Administration’s Policy Framework for a 21st Century Grid. This framework, launched at a White House event in June 2011, highlights the value of empowering consumers with enhanced information to save energy, ensure privacy, and shrink bills.

The vision of consumer access to energy data is shared by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), which recently passed a resolution endorsing smart grid principles that include the importance of providing consumers with affordable and timely access to their own energy use data.

And if modeled after a successful program like Blue Button, Green Button has the potential to deliver untold benefits to consumers and utilities alike.

Since its release, Blue Button has been adopted by Medicare, the Department of Defense, and private sector health care organizations.  Software developer challenges have spurred applications that expand on the Blue Button’s promise by helping consumers use their data to stay healthy and manage their care.

Through a collaborative effort, we can build an open-reference implementation of a Green Button, based on national standards for the smart grid.  If the health industry can work together through Blue Button to make this world a better place, then the energy industry can do so through Green Button. 

Let’s get to work.

Aneesh Chopra is US Chief Technology Officer