Green Button Fires Up Energy Sector Transformation
White House-inspired initiative helps utilities start their journey into the green, digital future.
Environmental concerns are making people want more control over their energy usage. Better management of resources requires relevant information, so these people need access to personal energy data. This can be tricky because many utilities are stuck with legacy technologies that do not have the balance of flexibility and security required to deliver meaningful data in this context.
The White House-inspired Green Button Initiative was launched in 2012, with the goal of helping concerned citizens access and use their energy data. It has since become a major driver for a range of internal change efforts and management technologies that represent an ongoing digital transformation of the energy industry.
The Green Button Alliance
In 2015, the Green Button Alliance was created to support Green Button standards and integrate them with utilities’ digital transformation efforts.
“Green Button platforms let utility customers securely download energy-usage information devoid of personally identifiable information and also make it possible for them to securely share these data with third parties,” explains Jeremy J. Roberts, General Manager of the Green Button Alliance.
“Consumers can look at their data in aggregate and… watch the impact of weather patterns, know which energy sources are being employed and generally understand usage better.”
— Jeremy J. Roberts, General Manager, Green Button Alliance
Green Button standards are not specific to any industry or location―the efforts started in the U.S. electric sector but are spreading far and wide. “You don’t need special devices in the home to track and store these data,” says Roberts. “Consumers can look at their data in aggregate and … watch the impact of weather patterns, know which energy sources are being employed and generally understand usage better.”
Importantly, these standards can often be implemented on top of existing infrastructure. “If the company has billing systems that can produce PDF bills and can produce graphs about energy use, implementing a Green Button platform may be a simple incremental step,” says Roberts. This step can be the beginning of a major digital journey, as access to data is generally provided through mobile apps and via APIs―two critical starting points for any digital transformation initiative.
The Digital Transformation Journey
While Green Button has helped initiate these first steps, as Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Integration Architect, Abhijit Roy says,“The journey is a lot bigger.”
Roy explains: “Like any company today, we need to be more connected to our customers. We are looking at more of a partnership. Users today are a lot more conscious of what they are choosing, and we understand that. We also need to be socially conscious.”
In addition to providing detailed usage data to customers, utilities need to improve operational efficiency and respond quickly to change. “When something happens in the electrical grid, how do we understand that? We are moving toward the concept of a smart grid,” says Roy. “This demands prediction of events based on situations like weather, fire or state of the assets such as corrosion, and responding … in the most efficient way.”
“There’s a crazy amount of data coming in, and we need to process, analyze and respond with appropriate action based on streaming data from various sources,” he continues. All of this requires change in thinking about technology, process and computing styles. Green Button was the starting point of this change. For example, it drove PG&E to make an API available to the external world for the first time. “Building this changed the way we think about APIs,” says Roy.
For PG&E, the other dramatic change was inspired by mobile. Green Button kicked off a rethink of data transfer across the industry, as companies move from delivering products to delivering more specialized services. “We’re going on a journey,” says Roy. “The possibilities are endless, exciting and also scary, but it’s a natural evolution. We are looking at how we can make users, technicians and work crew more efficient, and how we can leverage mobility and cloud.”
The Well-Managed Data Stream
Because Green Button initiatives use APIs to open up backend data, they require special security and management precautions.
“CA has a set of technologies to unlock Green Button, focusing upon our API Gateway,” says Peter Anderson, Senior Solution Strategist for API Management at CA Technologies. “For example, if a utility customer makes a payment online, and it is managed and secured through the Gateway, they can be assured it is a valid transaction.”
“CA has a set of technologies to unlock Green Button, focusing upon our API Gateway.”
— Peter Anderson, Senior Solution Strategist, API Management, CA Technologies
An API management infrastructure is not merely a precaution against security and performance risks―it is also an enabler of Green Button initiatives. “Part of the challenge is to get the data out. The Gateway that we provide does a lot of the heavy lifting, particularly taking care of the security issues. With the Gateway, getting access to all the older systems is easy, and it can translate between protocols.”
Digital transformation can be tough in industries not accustomed to change, but it is essential to meeting next-generation customer demands. Green Button is helping utilities begin to move along this path. As these utilities continue along this journey, they will need to execute gradual infrastructure change that maintains core values and provides a secure platform for data transfer and interaction with customers.