Can Green Button, the emerging energy data standard for U.S. households, find a home in the commercial buildings sector? It looks like major grid players like Schneider Electric, Itron and Oracle, as well as startups like FirstFuel, plan to find out.
Those are among the smart grid companies announcing their support for the Green Button initiative, the joint White House-Department of Energy project aimed at creating a simple format for sharing energy data among utility customers around the country. The news comes as part of a big White House announcement on Thursday, with Itron, Oracle, Opower, Silver Spring Networks and other big smart grid companies pledging their support.
The Green Button initiative, launched in September, seeks to create a common data format for the hourly or 15-minute power reads collected from most commercial interval meters and newer residential smart meters.
Since then, California’s big three utilities have started offering Green Button-based data downloads to customers via utility web portals. Texas utilities Oncor and CenterPoint are working on Green Button, and Aclara has pledged to make Green Button data available to customers of Mid-Atlantic utility Pepco later this year, with the potential of adding others of its score of big utility clients to that list.
We’ve also seen home energy management startups like Tendril Networks, Opower and Simple Energy launch platforms for residential customers. But most of these efforts are aimed at getting homeowners more involved in their energy usage.
Thursday marks the first time we’ve seen a big push into applying the Green Button to commercial properties as well. Of course, the main question is, what can commercial building do with a simple database of hourly or 15-minute energy use at the building’s master meter?
That, in fact, is what FirstFuel’s business model is based on. The Boston-based startup promises to turn simple interval meter data into a wealth of energy efficiency intelligence about a building.
Working with utilities as customers, FirstFuel pulls that interval data and a building address, then melds it with weather and satellite imaging data to come up with a “no-touch” view of building energy use that’s proven to be surprisingly accurate when compared against real-world measurements from the company’s pilot projects, Swapnil Shah, co-founder and CEO, told me in a Wednesday interview.
FirstFuel raised a $2.4 million seed round in September, and brought in $10 million more from Rockport Capital, Nth Power and Battery Ventures in February. It’s working with a number of unnamed utilities, and it has also been selected by the Department of Defense’s Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) to demonstrate its technology and potential savings on military installations.
As for Schneider Electric, the company said Thursday that it plans to integrate the Green Button into energy management products, starting with its Energy Profiler Online (EPO), which pulls customer energy usage data from the utility and turns it into actionable information. Schneider is big in building power systems and energy efficiency retrofits, so it’s no doubt hungry for utility data that it can add to its deep view of how buildings are consuming energy.
Itron and Oracle also mentioned supporting commercial customers in their Thursday announcements of support for the Green Button. It's important to remember that many commercial customers look a lot more like homes than like massive office buildings and factories in terms of their power consumption, and could benefit from some simple first steps in obtaining interval energy usage data from a system like Green Button.
On the other hand, larger-scale power users are going to want more than a chart of how much power they've used to gain insight into how to spend money to reduce wasted power. Indeed, mixing utility views of how buildings consume energy with the data available within buildings themselves is an interesting new field of development.
Retroficiency, another Boston-based startup, is combining utility meter data analysis with its building-side energy efficiency data. Honest Buildings, a startup that collects publicly available building efficiency data in an easy-to-use online format, is planning to use Green Button data to beef up its comparisons.
There’s also a long list of startups that plan to build apps to use Green Button data, including Belkin, Efficiency 2.0, Lucid, PlotWatt, Simple Energy and SunRun, to name a few. Perhaps they’ve got plans for ways to convert this simple interval meter data into insight for commercial building energy management as well.