The Green Button – Monitoring Your Energy Usage

I am betting we’ll hear more over the years about new hardware and software that will help us monitor and control our home energy usage. One that I’ve been really excited about is Nest, a completely reinvented home thermostat that learns from your behavior to save heating and cooling costs. And I read today about how (some) consumers now have access to detailed energy usage records and apps that provide reporting on that detailed data. Sadly, I can tell you today, after a bit of experimenting, that the process of finding and using that information is not yet ready for the masses.

What I read was a news article about the US government (particularly the CTO, Aneesh Chopra) pushing public utilities to provide consumers with more information about home energy usage. I was excited to hear that SDG&E was one of the first to offer detailed extracts through the Green Button. So I decided to go online to see what could be done with the data.

The article mentioned an app published by Tendril called Energize, so I went to the Android market and downloaded it. After installing it, the home screen asked for my Energize URL, my username, and my password. No instructions about where to find the URL or how to set up an account. So right away I was lost.

I decided to go to the SDG&E website for more info. I signed into my account, but nothing was jumping out at me for where I could download data or link to a feed. I finally stumbled over to “My Energy”, where, huzzah!, the Green Button was finally visible. I was able to download an XML feed without too much difficulty, but still didn’t understand how I was supposed to get the Tendril app to interface with this data.

The next stop was the Tendril website. There is a section for Consumers with some text about the Energize application suite, but when I clicked through, I was taken to a profile page of one of their designers. Flying in the dark now, I backed up and clicked on the Developers link. It finally looked like I was in the right place because I saw a link to Green Button Connect, where I can sign up, upload, download, and learn more about apps.

So, I signed up and tried to upload the XML data I downloaded earlier. Except it failed to upload, multiple times. And I gave up on the process here, finally realizing they mean it when they say “Beta” in the logo.

After reading this narrative, are you lost yet? Can you imagine how anyone is supposed to get motivated to monitor their energy usage after hitting so many brick walls?

Thinking about this data more tonight, I wonder how helpful it really is. The utility company is only giving you a historical view, so they can’t tell you anything about how you’re currently using energy. And the smart meters aren’t quite smart enough to tell you energy usage about specific components in your house. SDG&E does give you usage details for the prior day and breakdowns by hour, which is a huge step up from the month-over-month views you get on paper bills. But I found myself wanting more; it’s very interesting to know my usage was higher for one month, but why was it higher and what should I do differently?

If you really want to learn more about your energy usage and make some changes, start with a Kill A Watt. You may need to wait a bit longer for the Green Button and apps to get a bit smarter.