Green Button: A Smart Decision

Last week at The Ohio State University, in a speech on his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, President Obama said: “We've got to build homes and businesses that waste less energy, and put consumers in control of their energy bills.”   The President believes that we need to make information and tools available to consumers so they can make informed energy decisions.

Inspired by a White House call to action, utility and electricity suppliers across the country last week committed to provide more than 15 million households access to data about their own energy use with a simple click of an online “Green Button”—bringing to 27 million the number of households that have gained such commitments from their utilities this year. Armed with their own data, homeowners and building owners will have more opportunities and choices to use a growing array of online services that help manage energy use and save on their bills.

The response by privacy advocates, consumer advocates, environmental firms, utility groups, clean energy companies, and technology firms has been resoundingly positive.  A group of 27 energy, environmental, technology, and financial firms also wrote a letter to the President, applauding his leadership on Green Button—and applauding the electric industry for taking this important step forward.

As an industry-led initiative to voluntarily adopt a consensus industry interoperability standard, Green Button builds on the Administration’s goal of empowering consumers to make informed decisions with better energy information—outlined in last June’s A Policy Framework for the 21stCentury Grid.  Green Button is also fully aligned with the policy statement from state utility commissioners that calls for providing consumers with affordable and timely access to their own energy use data.   

But empowering consumers and fostering innovation is important in other areas of our economy as well.  Green Button, along with the popular health-care “Blue Button” and an emerging education “MyData Button,” are part of the Administration’s wider strategy to promote “Smart Disclosure” in government and in the private-sector – that is, the timely release of complex information and data in standardized, machine readable formats, in ways that enable consumers to make informed decisions.   

In support of such efforts, the White House today hosted a conference at the National Archives called “Informing Consumers through Smart Disclosure.”  I moderated a session on smart disclosure in energy and transportation, where we saw demonstrations of Green Button and other tools and apps that will help consumers understand and manage their energy use.     

Making it possible for consumers to securely get their own health care, energy, and education data – so they can more easily understand which medications they are taking, how much energy their house uses, or how their child is currently doing in school – promises to give consumers new opportunities to make informed decisions.  Smart disclosure also promises to open up new market opportunities for the entrepreneurs and startups that are creating new apps and services, helping create the jobs of the future.

Nick Sinai is Senior Advisor to the CTO for Innovation and Entrepreneurship


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