The White House on Wednesday announced that a host of new utilities and other companies had joined in its effort to create a new, standard format for people to see their own household energy house.
The new standard, called the “Green Button” is just that: A green-colored button located on participating utilities’ websites that consumers can click on to download their household energy usage data from a given period of time. As of Wednesday, the White House had gotten a total of 17 utilities to sign on to the effort, covering upwards of 30 million households and businesses.
In addition, the White House has secured the commitment of a number of energy assessment and advisory companies to help make the Green Button data more useful, as right now, the data comes in just two file formats: XML and CSV, essentially just a spreadsheet full of numbers.
But two of these companies seeking to make the data more user-friendly and actionable told TPM that they are more focused on getting energy savings out of commercial buildings, such as office buildings and other workplaces, than they are out of average households.
“Our initial target is light commercial companies and business owners that haven’t had access to this data,” said Craig Isakow, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based energy efficiency assessment startup Melon, in a telephone interview with TPM.
Melon, which launched only about a month ago, has one energy savings product in particular: Energy Star Benchmarking, or a tool that enables commercial buildings understand and improve their energy usage according to the EPA’s Energy Star scale of efficiency, which grades buildings on a scale of 1 to 100.
As Isakow pointed out, a growing pool of major U.S. cities, including New York and Seattle, are requiring energy star rankings for certain types of buildings, giving him a highly incentivized pool of potential customers.
He gave TPM two examples of current customers, a small doctor’s office and a travel agency. In the case of the doctor’s office, Isakow said that their energy management system was literally a boiler room and four household-grade thermostats that go untouched except by one doctor in particular, who knows how to manipulate them.
“Large million-square-foot-plus office spaces probably have their own advanced systems, but for smaller commercial facilities, the Green Button opens up tremendous opportunities,” said Isakow.
Isakow’s aim is to create a web application that will allow commercial customers to easily download their energy usage data from the Green Button and enter it into a tool that automatically and quickly gives them an Energy Star Benchmarking assessment. He compared it to TurboTax. Melon will enter a prototype of the application in the Energy Department’s ongoing contest to see who best utilizes Green Button data, called “Apps For Energy.”
Another company the White House announced that was joining the Green Button effort on Wednesday is a two-year-old Boston-based firm called Retroficiency. It too, is focusing on wringing energy savings out of the commercial market in exchange for fees.
“What in our minds the Green Button is driving at and towards is what we do as a company already,” said Bennett Fisher, CEO of Retroficiency, in a phone interview with TPM, “That’s helping energy service companies and building mangers to identify the right opportunities in buildings for energy savings.”
Retroficiency’s signature products include a virtual energy assessment and an automated energy audit, both of which Fisher said he expected would be improved by using the Green Button standard.
“It’s previously been really hard to get good data out of utilities,” Fisher told TPM.
Currently, Retroficiency gets its data from utilities companies directly or from smart meter companies that crunch and present the data in a more granular form. But as Fisher explained, the data format varied wildly between utility to utility, making energy assessments more complex and challenging for both customers and companies like his.
“Each of these utilities and smart meter companies have a separate format,” Fisher said, “So when you’re working with a utility, you have to have a customized solution and portal to grab data and start to do analysis.”
“The beauty of the Green Button,” Fisher elaborated, is that it “standardizes the format across utilities and companies, so you can build something that will be able to rely on a standard input.”
He compared his company’s services to “Mint.com” the popular app and financial management service that lets customers synch all of their various bank accounts into one system.
As for why the commercial was getting more attention from this new wave of Green Button companies, Fisher offered a theory:
“One commercial building is worth how many homes in terms of energy usage?” Fisher asked, rhetorically. “Probably 100s in the case of many buildings, so it’s not surprising they [The White House] are getting pull on the commercial side.”