Obama wants agencies to push the Green Button

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The White House's announcement that it will extend a presidential memorandum asking federal agencies to wring $2 billion in energy savings from their operations in a two-year period also calls on three of those agencies to figure out how best to incorporate a publicly available energy-use data standard.

On Dec. 5, President Barack Obama ordered federal agencies to increase their use of renewable energy to 20 percent of total consumption by 2020. As part of the initiative, agencies were instructed to use public Green Button data standards in their energy management practices.

Green Button is a technical standard developed in a public/private collaboration among energy providers and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The voluntary program is aimed at providing customers with a detailed look at their electricity usage via a uniform download from utility providers' sites via Web or smart phone.

U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Nick Sinai said that as of Dec. 3, 48 utility and electric companies serving more than 59 million homes and businesses across the U.S. had committed to giving their customers access to data through Green Button. Almost 42 million households and businesses are using data accessed through Green Button to help manage their energy use, he added in a Dec. 5 post on the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy blog co-written by Matt Theall, a presidential innovation fellow at the Energy Department.

According to Green Button's website, detailed utility meter information can be particularly valuable in managing multi-building campuses, different floors in the same building and different tenants' space in the same building. Meter information can also show specific applications of energy within a building, such as lighting, heating and cooling.

The president's memo tasked DOE, the General Services Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency with creating and initiating a strategy for a Green Button pilot data exchange program at federal facilities within 120 days.

GSA officials did not have an immediate comment on the trial's details and deferred to the White House's statement.

Sinai and Theall said that based on the outcome of that pilot project, GSA, DOE and EPA will issue guidance for other facilities to use the data standard and incorporate reporting, data analytics and automation processes in consultation with their local utilities. The goal would be to enter data into EPA's Energy Star Portfolio Manager to benchmark and reduce energy costs and use across the government.

Data center savings

In recent months, several federal agencies have explored the possibility of achieving energy savings through data center optimization, but sources say a hitch in a first-of-its-kind deal between Lockheed Martin and DOE continues to slow such efforts.

Early this year, the Office of Management and Budget placed a hold on a $70 million energy savings performance contract (ESPC) between Lockheed Martin and DOE that would have paid for itself through savings achieved over six years by optimizing two of the department's data centers, as reported by FCW.

In July, U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel testified before Congress that OMB had no role in approving ESPCs, and a DOE official testified the same day that the matter was "now a DOE decision," leading many to speculate that DOE had capitulated to OMB. Thus far, DOE has held off on finalizing the contract despite pressure from Congress, a decision numerous industry officials say has had a chilling effect on the use of ESPCs in data center consolidation.

NASA, the Transportation Department, GSA, the Army and the Navy are all at varying stages of selecting companies for data center optimization efforts.

About the Authors

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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Reader comments

Tue, Dec 10, 2013 RayW

All this is fine and good, but nowhere do I see consideration of what does the room want to do? Are the remote sensors working between the room and the controller building? What is the environment?

Right now we have a room in my building at 58 degrees as measured by three independent devices. CE claims the room is at 68 as measured by the remote system. And the system is working since they checked the room next door and it is fine. No one in power wants to rock the boat since our environment is controlled from another building, and "reprisals" have been rumored to have occurred.

Last year Obama was said to have mandated strict temperature settings in federal buildings. Our room during the winter time (0-15 degrees F at night and 15-35 F during the day) will float to 85 F with no air flowing and with the mandated 62 F or whatever it was, the air has blowing up a storm and we were wearing jackets and gloves in the offices and normal clothes in the labs which require 72 F. When asked if we could get the air flow turned down, for two weeks they said no, President Obama requires this to save energy.

Blanket policy based upon one environment and requirement across a wide range of environments and requirements does nothing but waste more energy and reduce work quality/output by the human element. When I lived in California in the southern deserts, I thought 88-90 F was a fine temperature for the AC - with the outside being 110 F or more. In Utah I now think 88 F is time to take a siesta and wait for the sun to go down and 68-70 F is a fine AC temperature. And that is just my quirks, at 72 F I have a co-worker who runs a heater under a blanket to keep from shivering at his desk while I have another coworker who wears shorts and a T-shirt because he overheats and sweats.

Tue, Dec 10, 2013

Like most Government programs, what Obama is proposing will likely end up cost more than it saves. In most cases, going to "renewable" energy sources will likely cost considerably more than sticking with what is being used. Paying a lot more to monitor energy use does not always find any ways to save, but always costs something. I personally oversee supposed "energy payback projects" and know that they rarely payback as much or more than what is put into them, but they do make good on repair of deteriorating facilities so we make sure they at least fulfill a real need. But "Green" all by itself is almost always a losing proposition when the government runs it because these people are all about appearances for political reasons and they know practically nothing about efficiency.

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