Today at a conference called An Electric Grid for the 21st Century at the University of Colorado Law School, Simple Energy joined utility industry experts, regulators, and government representatives in discussing the benefits of the Green Button Initiative and smart grid. Describing how the Green Button is enabling customer engagement in smart grid, Justin Segall of Simple Energy explained, “Green Button data is the enabler, not the end point. Beyond the transactional component of 200,000 people in California who have downloaded their data and then uploaded it into our platform or others, this is promoting the idea of customer engagement with data as the basis.”
Joining Justin on the energy usage data panel were Nick Sinai of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Zahra Makoui of PG&E and Sunil Cherian of Spirae. Nick began by describing the Green Button Initiative itself, explaining that “it’s not a federal mandate, it’s a challenge to industries,” and pointing out that PG&E has been an industry leader in implementing the program.
According to Zahra Makoui of PG&E, about 200,000 customers have already clicked on the Green Button to download their own electric usage data. “We don’t know what they did with that data and we don’t care,” she said, explaining that they can then analyze it or upload it to any third party application they choose. “It’s their data.” She then proceeded to describe how Green Button data will make it easier for customers to determine how to reduce their own energy consumption.
The panel next discussed the idea of a killer application that could take all that data and make it really motivating for customers, with Justin explaining that “we don’t have an information problem, we have a motivation problem – without motivation you just get a lot of devices in drawers.” Many panelists and people in the audience were interested in the idea of using behavioral economics and social networks to motivate people to save energy.
Finally the panel focused on the importance of interoperability standards and distributed generation, describing how millions of end points that are active in both generation and consumption upsets both the business models of the utilities and the operational practice. This opens up the opportunity for more robust competition between utilities, competing not only on rate structures but also on green power, devices in the home, and more. Owning the new value proposition created by increased competition and evolving customer expectations will be an interesting process of evolution, with not only utilities but also third party providers such as Nest competing to own the relationship.
There were a couple of questions from the audience, including how a customer engagement platform based on social networks might still impact those who don’t participate in such online organizations. Justin pointed out that “when you look at the penetration rates of smart phones and Facebook, it’s a lot of people. Compared to utility service territories, Facebook demographics tend to have 120% the amount of people compared to households served, so you could have several people in the home who may be the influencer to get everyone to save energy.”
One final question inquired how smart grid demand would move forward in other states based on what’s happening now in California and Texas. Nick Sinai replied that the deployment of advanced metering infrastructure and software is happening across the country. “Recovery Act spending represents many billions of dollars across projects nationwide overall. I think you will see many utilities outside of California and Texas starting to think about customer engagement.”