Will the Green Button Report Real Time Power Usage?

When I think about real time power usage data, I am thinking about data that is being made available that very second. Data that is being reported in real time is like watching a football game live. You know that the running back just added 10 yards on to his total because you just saw the run on the T.V. That's real time.

It is being reported that the Green Button program being offered by many power companies allows customers with a Smart Meter to see their power usage in real time, like a live football game. By signing up for the program with your power provider, you can have access to real time power usage data from the comfort of your own computer, iPad, smart phone, etc. I have new information that this may not be true.

On the website, ourenergypolicy.org, the news article states, "Utilities around the country have begun to sign on to the initiative and commit to provide their customers with real-time energy use data."

I find that most articles and news sources about the Green Button plainly state real time data.

I think I may have jumped to the wrong conclusion concerning the Green Button and real time power usage data. What I consider real time may not be what the Green Button considers real time. The Green Button and I may not be watching the same game, or at least, the Green Button is watching a taped delayed version.

In my article Pushing This Green Button Will Lower Your Power Bill, detectenergy.com, I made the assumption that the Green Button Program offered by power companies provided the customer with real time data. I my article under the heading, What does all this mean to the average consumer? I boldly stated," It means that if you sign up for the program, you will be able to get real time energy usage data on your computer or other connected device, iPod, smart phone, etc."

A couple sentences later I pronounce,"Click on the Green Button and the computer will take you to the pages that are displaying your energy usage right at that time of day."

After I posted my article on homeenergypros.lbl.gov, I began receiving some comments - which is one reason a person like myself would post to an energy website in the first place.

A comment by Kevin Strong pointed out that I might be using the wrong definition of real time. This is important, not only do I want my articles to be accurate, I want the Green Button to be real time like my football definition, not like the energy policy news reported above.

Kevin comments,"Green Button data is NOT real time. It is typically at least a day old, and is hourly interval data. Here in California, the residential smart meters have one reading taken per hour, and then these are typically only uploaded over the smart grid to the utility in batches. I think every 8 hours at minimum, if not only once per day, and then only made available to customers the day after. My understanding is that this is the way most smart meters will work nationwide. The smart grid is not designed for real-time data coming from smart meters."

The more I think about it, in order to have real time energy use data, the data would have to never leave your house. It would have to go directly from your smart meter or electrical panel to your computer or other monitor. Power monitors like FIDO by EcoDog retain their advantage by providing actual real time usage data.

Information found on the PG&E website does not identify the Green Button as providing real time usage data, PG&E states that, "Customers can designate up to 13 months of data to be delivered in a single file. If the customer has not had a Smart Meter connected to the network for that long, then the customer can only download the amount of interval data since the transition."

PG&E goes on to say,"Making detailed energy usage information available in a standardized file format encourages awareness of energy use as well as innovation among third parties for new customer-focused applications." The information from PG&E talks about detailed energy use data, but does not mention a word about real time.

I think the most people, myself included, have incorrectly assumed that the Green Button was going to provide real time energy usage data. Thanks to Kevin, I think I have found an error in my assumption.

I am going to follow up on this Green button, real time problem - get the straight information, reconsider the implications concerning conserving energy and get back to you. There appears to be an importance difference between real time energy usage and detailed energy usage. Stay tuned to detectenergy.com for future, detailed updates.

Thank you for stopping by detectenergy.com, hope you come back in real time, but I won't leave the light on for you..

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Tags: button, companies, data, energy, green, meter, monitor, power, real, saving, More…smart, time

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Comment by Kevin Strong on August 15, 2012 at 4:44pm

Don, thanks for picking up on my comments on your previous post.  As a follow up, I've included a couple of screenshots of my own utility data.  To access this I need to login to my Southern California Edison account.  These screenshots were captured around 4pm today, August 15th.  You'll note I can only see data up until yesterday, August 14th (my mouse was hovering over the bar for yesterday, which brings up the pop-up black bubble with data for that day).  And if I click on "See Hourly Usage", I get the chart shown in the second image, which only gives the hourly data up until 11pm-12 last night.

Note the "GREEN BUTTON Download My Data" button in the top right of the first screen shot.  Data can be downloaded in HTML or CSV format.  Green Button apps only have access to this same hourly interval data, with the most recent data being the previous day.

Couple of comments: we were out of town on a long weekend trip from the morning of the 11th until yesterday evening.  From the data, it is pretty obvious that no one was home, and you can also see that we arrived home between 8 and 9pm last night (and switched on the AC).  Just one example that highlights the security and privacy concerns if third parties could tap in to this data. 

And the $40 spending goal I entered in my SCE account is not a realistic number, just a number I selected to be sure I would get messages from SCE regarding being over my goal, as I wanted to test out the features that SCE provides.

I'd be happy to answer any other questions on this and share other screenshots for anything of interest.

Kevin Strong (CEO, FutureDash, www.energy-buddy.com)

Comment by Dennis Cheslik on August 14, 2012 at 1:13am

Don, great post and dead on the issue. Can we trust smart meter monitoring? Here in Texas, Austin Energy has a project in the works studying smart grid meters and smart thermostats. They should be letting the cat out of the bag soon on how to track charging more for power in peak times. We'll see what happens next.

Comment by Bob Blanchette on August 13, 2012 at 8:05pm

In home displays that can talk to the meter directly are the most feasible way to get real time data on energy use. Zigbee to to Ethernet adapters could be used to convert the data to be used by a home PC. On our grid we're behind about 1hr and get updates in 15 minute blocks of use. This is WITHOUT the in home display.

Having real time data or even hourly data at your fingertips makes people aware of use.

Comment by tedkidd on August 13, 2012 at 10:05am

Can you imagine the amount of data required?  The server space?  The savings could never justify cost of electricity and infrastructure to run that.  Eventually technology will provide an answer, but in the meantime isn't this the wrong end of the problem?  Are we becoming so focused on the leaf we don't see the tree, much less the forest?  

Does the real opportunity to save energy come from hypervigilant "right now" monitoring, or from building comparative large time block data?  



Do we make assumptions about where opportunity is, then not bothering to find out if our assumptions are wrong?  We seem to place huge value on tiny, unverified savings when we use it to justify something we want.  Does motivated reasoning prevent us from seeing the truth?  

We see this thought process with SETBACK behavior.  People believe it will save them college tuition payments.  Some later they find setback seriously impedes comfort and control, and abandon it.  While some find abandoning setback costs a little, many are finding abandoning it actually saves money.  Every situation is so specific that undiagnosed prescriptive recommendations really are malpractice.  

Measuring electricity use "now" may save people who start from ground zero some measurable money.  Coming from a place of pure ignorance, it helps them become informed about unnecessary waste in their homes.  But for those already pretty well educated, does it really provide savings?  Could the time and energy they put to "saving" be better spent elsewhere?  

Like driving a Hummer and thinking that accelerating slowly from stoplights is going to save the planet, we delude ourselves by asking the wrong questions.  I've found we focus on the small stuff and miss the big stuff.   This obsession with "Right Now" presumes a large part of our consumption can be controlled.  It further presumes large opportunity for savings without sacrifice, which I have yet to witness.  Human beings have huge emotional tie to the idea of control.  It blinds us to the truth.  

What we need to do is look at the big picture FIRST, then drill down. How is the annual consumption?  How does it compare to other people in my neighborhood?  If you are already at 1/2 most of your neighbors consumption, SPEND TIME ELSEWHERE.  Apply your efforts where they matter.  We need to step back and look at opportunity instead of presuming it and drilling down.  

Do you replace the hummer with a prius?  Is saving 1 gallon a month justification, or 100 gallons?  By focusing on the 1 gallon opportunity, are you missing 100 gallon opportunities?  First step is look at travel requirements.  The question is how much can I save over time.  "How's my consumption now" doesn't do that.  

If we get stuck mucking with the healthy, we'll never get to the sick.  Instead of jumping right to ekg, catscan, and mri, let's take blood pressure, weight, and listen to the chest.  Measuring opportunity is easy, we already have the data points.  The first step is Annual opportunity.  Monthly consumption is more than enough data to understand annual opportunity.  

Comment by tedkidd on August 13, 2012 at 10:03am

Can you imagine the amount of data required?  The server space?  The savings could never justify cost of electricity and infrastructure to run that.  Eventually technology will provide an answer, but in the meantime isn't this the wrong end of the problem?  Are we becoming so focused on the leaf we don't see the tree, much less the forest?  

Does the real opportunity to save energy come from hypervigilant "right now" monitoring, or from building comparative large time block data?  

Do we make assumptions about where opportunity is, then not bothering to find out if our assumptions are wrong?  We seem to place huge value on tiny, unverified savings when we use it to justify something we want.  Does motivated reasoning prevent us from seeing the truth?  

We see this thought process with SETBACK behavior.  People believe it will save them college tuition payments.  Some later they find setback seriously impedes comfort and control, and abandon it.  While some find abandoning setback costs a little, many are finding abandoning it actually saves money.  Every situation is so specific that undiagnosed prescriptive recommendations really are malpractice.  

Measuring electricity use "now" may save people who start from ground zero some measurable money.  Coming from a place of pure ignorance, it helps them become informed about unnecessary waste in their homes.  But for those already pretty well educated, does it really provide savings?  Could the time and energy they put to "saving" be better spent elsewhere?  

Like driving a Hummer and thinking that accelerating slowly from stoplights is going to save the planet, we delude ourselves by asking the wrong questions.  I've found we focus on the small stuff and miss the big stuff.   This obsession with "Right Now" presumes a large part of our consumption can be controlled.  It further presumes large opportunity for savings without sacrifice, which I have yet to witness.  Human beings have huge emotional tie to the idea of control.  It blinds us to the truth.  

What we need to do is look at the big picture FIRST, then drill down. How is the annual consumption?  How does it compare to other people in my neighborhood?  If you are already at 1/2 most of your neighbors consumption, SPEND TIME ELSEWHERE.  Apply your efforts where they matter.  We need to step back and look at opportunity instead of presuming it and drilling down.  

Do you replace the hummer with a prius?  Is saving 1 gallon a month justification, or 100 gallons?  By focusing on the 1 gallon opportunity, are you missing 100 gallon opportunities?  First step is look at travel requirements.  The question is how much can I save over time.  "How's my consumption now" doesn't do that.  

If we get stuck mucking with the healthy, we'll never get to the sick.  Instead of jumping right to ekg, catscan, and mri, let's take blood pressure, weight, and listen to the chest.  Measuring opportunity is easy, we already have the data points.  The first step is Annual opportunity.  Monthly consumption is more than enough data to understand annual opportunity.  

Comment by Jason Green on August 13, 2012 at 6:33am

I think it would be ok to have day-old data, as long as it provided stats for specific dates/times. I'd be fine with average usage by minute or even 5-minute intervals. You know when the football game was on yesterday, so you could match the data back to that time to see how your energy usage was affected. Obviously, actual real-time data would be better, but accurate day-old data is a step in the right direction.

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