Sometimes, when you try to solve one big problem, you can end up solving many more than you ever envisioned.

Ontario’s push to install smart meters across the province a decade ago was an investment in better energy management. By making it easier and better to manage energy through a smart meter infrastructure, the province had the opportunity to eventually reduce demand on the energy system and support conservation efforts.

The Green Button initiative, incubated here at MaRS over the past year, is leveraging that initial investment and building upon it to achieve real conservation goals. The Green Button standard is now available to more than 2.6 million households in Ontario through five different utilities, and the number continues to grow. The standard allows customers to access their smart meter data and share it with services and solutions such as Project Neutral to help better manage their electricity bill.

Last week, the new version of Ontario’s Green Button standard (the “Connect My Data” standard) was released, allowing entrepreneurs and innovators to connect to smart meter data and build new tools and services. We’re throwing a hackathon this weekend and inviting anyone with ideas to come play with the data and build hardware and software that uses the standard.

If you’re not a developer, don’t worry—at the hackathon, you’ll meet and be able to work with people with all sorts of skills to bring your idea to life. We’ll also have sessions and workshops from experts on how to understand, use and implement the standard, as well as mentors who will work with groups on idea generation, privacy design and business planning. We’ll have a soldering station and a 3D printer available for people who want to build stuff too.

Smart meters and programs like the Green Button do more than just address the big problem of energy conservation; they’re also an opportunity to foster new innovation, create new companies and spur our province’s economy. A recent report by Blue Green Canada, a coalition of environmentalists and unions, estimates that reducing our energy consumption by 25% could lead to 25,000 new jobs in the next decade.

Currently, MaRS’ cleantech practice and Data Catalyst are working with over 20 companies that are using smart meter data to build new businesses and create innovative solutions to energy management problems.

These companies, and the many more to come, show that conservation isn’t the only large issue that can be addressed through our electricity data—there is the potential for massive economic benefit as well. A 2010 McKinsey report on smart grids estimates that the market for smart grid customer applications will go from $3 billion to $10 billion by 2014.

If Ontario is to address the problem of energy use and management, we’ll need your ideas and help. By coming to the hackathon and using the Green Button to create innovative services, you’ll not only be part of the conservation solution, but potentially the growth of our province’s economy as well. Join the Green Button data revolution!

Sameer Vasta

Sameer Vasta works on public policy, government relations, public affairs, and communications for MaRS Data Catalyst. He’s also a flâneur, letter-writer, hopeless romantic and hugger extraordinaire. See more…