A systems change approach to energy conservation
Building an ecosystem around energy conservation requires collaboration between a multitude of players and stakeholders, both in Ontario and globally. Like any large-scale systems change, re-imagining data’s role in the energy industry is a collaborative, iterative process that requires rapid trial and error, continuous feedback, and the ability to adapt to changing requirements and context.
The Green Button is an example of how MaRS has been using a systems-change framework to think about energy conservation, and specifically using data as an intervention to create that kind of change.
Inspired by similar work being done in the United States, Ontario’s Green Button was conceived just over two years ago as part of an exercise to identify barriers for innovation in the energy sector. The original hypothesis was a simple one: standardized and secure access to smart meter data would leverage the province’s global-leading investment in the smart grid and would open up the sector to innovative solutions for energy conservation.
It was a hypothesis that was refined and tested over several months—even now, we continue to gather and analyze evidence to make sure our assumptions reflect the needs of the sector—and led to shifts in the Ontario Energy Board’s guidance and incorporation into the province’s Long-Term Energy Plan.
While the policy work was under way, MaRS worked with key partners in government and industry to fully understand the kind of platform that would be best suited for Ontario’s innovators. This meant developing a reference architecture that was reflective of and compatible with that of the United States, but still reflected the intricacies of our current system and the potential of where the system was going.
The Green Button initiative was more than just a set of standards, however, and this emerged very clearly from the iterative process that brought in feedback and input from all the key stakeholders in the energy sector. Building the Green Button “solution” also involved creating an environment where innovators could easily create and drive adoption of their products and services, and where Ontarians could quickly use and understand those services for better energy conservation. By adopting a rapid prototyping approach to the Green Button, and by testing the phases of the program (from Download My Data to Connect My Data) with targeted audiences at pilot utilities across the province, the Green Button team has been able to create a protocol that is beneficial to utilities, innovators, regulators and consumers.
The iterative, phased approach also reflects the engagement of key partners in the project. An original working group, convened by MaRS and composed of regulators, utilities, innovators and government, set the stage for the original architecture of the Green Button. As the project progressed, early adopters were engaged to test the architecture and the solutions built on top of that architecture; their feedback was used to create the necessary changes to make the Green Button accessible to the early majority.
Over three million customers (residential and small business) in Ontario now have access to Green Button Download My Data via their utilities’ web portal. Two pilots of the Connect My Data protocol launched in 2014 are making some steady progress; the pilots are defining the future iterations of the Green Button in order to create an energy system intervention that is scalable, sustainable and impactful.
Once fully realized, the pilots will make Ontario the first jurisdiction in Canada to allow direct, consistent and standardized energy data sharing across all utilities in their service territories, allowing greater consistency in the market and acting as a catalyst for the growth and creation of businesses and solutions—a true example of a widespread systems change.
Over the next few days, we’ll be showcasing how the Green Button has been, and can be, adopted in various sectors to create systemic change. We’ll look at the potential in the commercial and other sectors, expansion past electricity, and how to build an ecosystem of innovative products and services to drive conservation.
In the meantime, if you’re looking to learn more about the Green Button and what it means for Ontarians, check out this short video about the project:
Want to learn more about how MaRS Data Catalyst is working with partners across North America on large-scale systems change in the energy data arena? Check out our series on data’s role in energy conservation and smart grid transformation:
- A systems change approach to energy conservation
- Energy conservation in the commercial sector
- Energy conservation in the education sector
- Gas and water’s role in energy conservation
- Building the conservation ecosystem
(Feature photo of smart meter by PSNH.)