Green Buttons and Ham

Last week we announced the launch of our new Energy Awareness Tool for solar homeowners.

In this post, I wanted to briefly share a bit about how it works under the covers and how we're leveraging open energy APIs to create innovative energy tools for solar customers.

First, what it is

The Pretty Visible Energy Awareness Tool combines data from your solar monitor and utility smart meter to help you understand the true benefit you're getting from solar. This consolidated view is typically unavailable from your solar company or utility directly, and so understanding your full energy picture has traditionally required manually comparing your solar monitor data with your utility bills, a time consuming and painful process for most people.

By presenting your near-real-time energy production and consumption together in several engaging formats, our new tool aims to help you easily track and share how much of your electricity is really coming from solar and to help you spot ways to get even more efficient with your energy use.

Energy Consumption Mix

How it works

If you're like most solar homeowners, you have two devices in your house collecting data on your energy production and consumption.

First, your solar system probably has a monitoring device that collects data on your solar power production and sends it over the network for monitoring. Usually, this is a part of the inverter (or micro-inverter) system that converts DC power from the panels to AC power in your home.

Second, your electric meter is measuring your energy usage over time. If you live in California or in a number of other utility regions across the country that are upgrading their energy infrastructure, you probably have a smart meter that can automatically send the data it collects over the network to the utility.

Our energy monitoring tool allows you to connect your Pretty Visible account to your solar monitor and smart meter to display and analyze your near-real-time energy production / consumption.

But rather than interfacing directly with your solar monitor and smart meter hardware, we use open APIs to access the data through the cloud from popular solar monitoring vendors and utilities. This open data infrastructure enables us to more quickly innovate on ways to help you make sense of and share your solar story.

Open solar data

Most solar monitoring vendors provide a web-based portal for customers to view their solar production stats. The data is collected by the solar monitoring hardware in your house and automatically sent over the internet to the cloud (i.e. the vendor's servers) for display.

Some of these vendors also provide an API for third party services, such as ourselves, to access solar customer data (with authorization from the customer) after it has been collected and sent up to the cloud. Using the vendor APIs, our system can automatically pull the latest solar production data in a machine-readable format from the cloud without having to directly talk to the monitoring device in your house.

Currently, we support two of the most popular solar monitoring vendors, Enphase and SolarEdge. These inverter manufacturers, used by many of the top solar installers across the US, both provide an API for accessing customer solar data. In both cases, we're able to fetch and display the latest production data about every 15 minutes, for near-real-time graphs.

We're eager for as many solar homeowners to be able to use our tool as possible, so we're working on adding support for additional solar monitoring vendors soon.

Open utility data

Traditionally, the only time you would see your electricity usage would be on your monthly utility bills. With the advent of smart meters, utilities have been able to provide online access to customer electricity usage in near-real-time. For example, PG&E in Northern California allows customers with smart meters to view their daily energy usage up to the previous day using the My Usage tool.

Up until recently, most utility customers could only access their usage data online through their utility's web site. However, over the last year or two, a number of utilities have been working in conjunction with the US government to define the Green Button standard for making it easier for customers and third parties to securely access energy usage data electronically.

Green Button Download My Data defines a standard format for customers to download their energy usage data for their own use, while Green Button Connect My Data defines standard APIs and data formats for third party applications like ours to automatically access customer utility data. Utilities have historically not been known to be on the forefront of consumer technology, so creating a standard way for utilities to provide open access to customer data in order to enable innovation in the energy space is a big deal!

On the forefront

So far, the three major California public utilities (PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E) and a couple of other utilities around the country have provided implementations of Green Button Connect My Data to open up access to their customers' energy data.

Pretty Visible is proud to be among the first group of applications to use the Green Button standard for accessing utility data. It allows us to put your smart meter to work (with your permission!) to provide you with insight about your energy picture that you can't get from your utility alone.

To start with, we've added support for PG&E through their Share My Data program (aka Green Button). For PG&E customers with a smart meter, we're able to pull hourly energy usage data (with a one day delay) for analysis and display alongside solar production data. And we're working to add support for additional Green Button-compatible utilities in the near future.

Open data, open eyes

While the solar industry and the utility industry have a long way to go to fully open up access to energy data, we're excited to be pushing forward on what can be done with the data when it's opened up.

What we've done so far is just the beginning, and we're looking forward to expanding our energy awareness tools soon to provide even more powerful analysis, alerting and sharing for solar homeowners.

Let us know what you think.