Consider this example: I am currently a member of my hometown's energy and sustainability committee. As part of our efforts to revise our city's master plan, we have been working with our utility to obtain aggregate monthly electricity and natural gas consumption data for the residential and commercial/industrial sectors within our community. Not individual customer's usage data (which would butt heads with tenant privacy laws), but aggregate data for the entire city. We started working with the utility to obtain these data six months ago. And we're still waiting...
But the winds of change are blowing, and gaining speed. Presented for consideration are two examples of significant developments on the data access front.
Green Button is an industry-led effort determined to provide electricity customers with easy access to their energy usage data in a consistent and easy-to-use format. This data access concept is based on a common technical standard developed in collaboration with a public-private partnership supported by the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology.
The idea behind Green Button is to provide a secure, consistent, and easy-to understand method for downloading data directly from the utility's website. At current count, there are 31 utilities and energy suppliers that have implemented Green Button, and nine additional utilities have expressed a commitment to implement Green Button.
Providing access to utility data in a consistent and easy manner not only provides these data to end-users, but also provides a platform for developers to create innovative web-based, smartphone, or other platform applications. These tools can deliver a host of potential services, things like rate plan selection assistance, renewable energy sizing and financing, virtual energy audits, measurement of energy efficiency investments, or energy usage visualization.
Another exciting development in the utility data accessibility world recently came from Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass) and Mark Udall (D-Colo) who joined together to introduce the Access to Consumer Energy Information (E-Access) Act on March 27, 2014.
Like Green Button, this bill seeks to improve access to energy consumption data, providing incentives to utilities and states that offer utility information to commercial and residential customers. If the bill is enacted, state activities meant to improve customer access to and understanding of energy usage would qualify for government funding.
Furthermore, this E-Access Act would require the DOE to create guidelines for improving access to electric energy information, and would address specific issues including time frame, consumer data, privacy protections, security, and how to present the information in a readily understandable format.
While access to utility data is still challenging, the market is clearly building momentum to improve this situation and overcome this long-standing hurdle to energy efficiency project development. Green Button, complimented by the E-Access Bill, represent two powerful tools that will help continue to push the industry forward, improving data accessibility, and promoting innovative uses for data that were, until recently, difficult to access or receive in a consistent, usable, easy-to-understand format.