OPower announced its plan to save a terawatt-hour of energy by the end of 2012, the equivalent of the average annual energy usage of 100,000 U.S. homes. The company says it’s already more than one-third of the way there.

The goal is lofty, but if the company continues to lock down utility clients at the rate it has in the last year, it’s certainly possible. However, stiff competition is coming on strong. Big players like Cisco, Google and General Electric all want to help consumers manage their home energy use. Other companies such as eMeter, EnergyHub and Tendril also have solutions to provide information to consumers. And that's just the (very) short list. 

If a recent White House policy framework becomes legislation, utilities could be required to provide information to their customers -- which would open up a market that is currently fragmented. It’s unlikely, however, that there would be significant change in a notoriously slow industry within 18 months. OPower’s announcement also comes with a retooled website, where anyone who’s interested can watch the kilowatt hours add up and learn more about their offerings.

--ZETA Communities, which builds affordable, net-zero energy homes, broke ground on a 22-home, net-zero-energy community. The project, known as Tierra del Sol, is in Stockton, Calif. and was developed by a local non-profit, Visionary Home Builders. ZETA was chosen because its modular buildings can be built quicker and for lower cost than traditional buildings. The homes are estimated to save the residents up to $2,000 per year on their utility bill from Pacific Gas & Electric.

The company is also building other homes, primarily multifamily units -- from townhouses to apartment buildings -- in different parts of California. Modular homes, which are assembled in factories and then trucked out to the foundation where they will sit, are not nearly as popular in the U.S. as they are in other places such as Japan. Because they're made in a factory, they have tight fits for high indoor air quality and less construction waste. For now, it’s still a niche market, with a lot of players trying to sell both regular and green-minded prefab construction. A recent article in the New York Times looked at the newfound interest in prefab for commercial buildings.

If net-zero building requirements catch on in the U.S. the way they have in other regions, municipalities and building companies will be looking for affordable solutions. If ZETA can continue to drive prices down, it should be well positioned as the market expands. ZETA is also offering qualified workers a home-ownership assistance plan for this development.

The modular builder is one of the green building companies incubated by Marc Porat. Other companies include Serious Materials and CalStar Products, which makes green cement and bricks.

--The International Organization for Standardization has released its latest energy management system standard, ISO 50001, for commercial and industrial properties.

The standard, which is already planned for 22 pilot projects by the U.S. Department of Energy, is based on a “Plan-Do-Check-Act” process for continual improvement. The standard will be used as part of the Superior Energy Performance certification program for industrial facilities. It will replace ANSI/MSE 2000-2008 and be compatible with ISO 9001 (quality management) and ISO 14001 (environmental management).

ISO 50001 is designed to include facilities, equipment, systems, processes and personnel, according to the DOE. It goes beyond the building itself, helping companies to find efficiency in the supply chain and create transparency on how energy resources are managed. 

It also goes much further than a one-time upgrade. “The focus is on continual improvement of energy performance, including operations over time.” said Aimee McKane, a researcher in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who had a role in developing the standard.