State regulators can play a critical role in unleashing building energy data

Blog | April 10, 2017 - 11:27 am
By Mary Shoemaker, State Policy Analyst

The 21st century has ushered in a new era of measuring personal progress. With wearable technologies, we can now collect more personal data than we ever thought possible, from heart rate and step count to standing time and sleep quality. The ability to measure what we want to manage in real time has brought new meaning to the phrase “big data.” Improved tools for data collection and analysis have not been limited to health metrics. Technologies for collecting energy data in our homes and buildings have improved, producing more and better data than ever before. When companies and researchers have easy access to such data, they can examine energy consumption trends and opportunities to reduce energy waste. These insights lead to more energy-efficient technologies and behaviors and keep money in consumers’ pockets. To reap these savings, state regulators have an important role to play in expanding and guiding energy data access.

Through a new state policy toolkit piece and a convening of state regulators with the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), ACEEE is digging deeper into the connection between building energy data access and greater energy efficiency.

The benefits of energy data access

Access to energy data offers an array of benefits. Residents and multifamily building owners can use building energy data to pinpoint and prioritize potential energy efficiency projects. Businesses can use these data to develop new, automated, and increasingly user-friendly analytical tools to extract consumption insights. Utilities can use data to increase savings from energy efficiency programs and identify opportunities for future system upgrades. However, despite their increased availability, energy consumption data can still be difficult to work with and is not always accessible to building owners and tenants.

The role of statewide utility regulators

State regulators have begun to develop streamlined, statewide data access guidelines as a way to unleash these benefits, drive new energy business models, and ensure customer privacy. The Illinois Commerce Commission, for example, has issued guidelines on customer consent for third-party access to energy usage data, and advocates in North Carolina are pushing for data access legislation in 2017. State regulators often address data access in proceedings related to advanced metering infrastructure and grid modernization, but they can also open new proceedings to discuss issues about energy usage data. Within these proceedings, regulators can define major use cases, determine allowable third-party access, and address other process and enforcement-related considerations. In our new state policy toolkit piece, we describe these steps in greater detail and compile useful resources and state examples. This state-focused resource builds on an existing ACEEE local policy toolkit piece that explains the value of aggregated building energy data to individuals, households, and communities.

Quality AND Quantity

Providing customers with access to these data is the first step, but enabling customers to use these data is the essential second step. A fitness tracker that withholds a user's step count for three weeks isn't particularly helpful. Similarly, an energy management platform that provides slow feedback to users makes it harder to connect energy consumption behavior with its impact on utility bills. The frequency and granularity of building energy data – and the platform that provides these data – distinguishes actionable feedback from vague numbers. At ACEEE and IMT’s data access discussion in February, it became apparent that timely and appropriately detailed data can help commercial and multifamily building owners reduce energy costs. Eugenia Gregorio, Vice President of Strategy and Sustainability at The Tower Companies, noted that there is a healthy sense of competition among commercial real estate owners, so Tower’s brokers and leasing agents market their energy efficiency initiatives by connecting low building operating costs with potential increases to tenants’ bottom line. Trisha Miller, Chief Sustainability Officer at WISHROCK, said that utility costs are one of its few variable expenses and that it uses energy data to reduce energy costs and invest in other services for its low-income and working-class residents.

Looking forward

The value of building energy data will evolve as utilities, regulators, and businesses work together to deliver reliable and cost-effective energy services. By developing guidelines for energy data access, regulators can help utilities embrace innovation and better serve their customers.

To enrich our new data access toolkit piece, ACEEE will continue to explore best practices for statewide energy data access policies. We want to help you! Please reach out to Mary Shoemaker (mshoemaker@aceee.org) if you are interested in engaging or are in need of additional resources.