In 2011 the Obama Administration put out a challenge to utilities: give customers a way to better access and understand their energy use data. The challenge, and its result the “Green Button” initiative, is based on the assumption that the more information consumers have, the smarter they will be about their energy use decisions. Utilities around the country have begun to sign on to the initiative and commit to provide their customers with real-time energy use data.

Data provided by utilities through the Green Button initiative will be collected and hosted by the Department of Energy in a standardized format. DOE has put out an “X-prize” style challenge to software and app developers in the hopes of encouraging the development of tools that will allow users to get the most from the data being collected by the initiative. DOE, along with Pacific Gas and Electric CompanyItron, and Gridwise Alliance, will offer $100,000 to the developers who create the best apps.

The Green Button initiative, and initiatives like it, are seen by some as a better bridge between utilities and their customers, and as a way to enable more informed energy choices by end-users. Some see potential for industry and commercial building owners to use the data to identify and offer audits, energy-efficiency upgrades, or distributed generation products to consumers. OPower’s newly announced app – a partnership between it, NRDC, and Facebook – is geared towards households, encouraging participants to post their energy use on Facebook and compare it with friends’ energy use. The idea behind this platform is that word of mouth, and friendly competition, will spur behavioral changes in energy use.

Will initiatives like Green Button be a significant enabler or driver of demand-side change? What other energy issues might be addressed by this policy model? Is real demand-side change as simple as word-of-mouth among friends?