Energy Usage Data Access: A Getting-Started Guide for Regulators

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Introduction

Accessible energy usage data can unlock energy savings in several ways. Easily accessible data can help residents and businesses achieve savings by better managing energy use in homes, large buildings, and entire communities. Local governments, meanwhile, can use aggregated data for planning purposes (see our Local Policy Toolkit for details). Increasingly, energy service providers are also finding ways to use energy usage data to provide innovative programs and services for residents and businesses.

Although utilities have access to vast amounts of data on their customers’ energy use, customers’ ability to use those data is still relatively limited. To facilitate better data transparency, states can develop guidelines or regulations that require utilities to send the data directly to customers or to third parties (with customer permission). State regulators can play an important role in streamlining the existing patchwork of city and utility approaches to managing customer data.

In this toolkit, we focus on opportunities for state utility regulators to enable, guide, or require utilities and localities to collect, share, and use customer energy data. We explore the benefits of statewide data access guidelines, discuss the processes by which state regulators can enact them, and provide relevant resources and state examples throughout.

Who Benefits from Statewide Data Access Guidelines?

Residents and Multifamily Building Owners

When residents and building owners have easy, consistent access to interval data, they can take advantage of energy market price signals and better use energy management tools and technologies, increasing their opportunities for energy savings.[1] Building owners can use aggregated whole-building data to identify and prioritize energy-savings opportunities. Tools such as Green Button offer a consistent platform for delivering these data, although utilities might not implement Green Button without a directive from regulators. When states issue guidelines and requirements for data access, all customers have access to these data, regardless of the utility that serves them. Regulators can help clear the way for multifamily building owners to gain access to whole-building data, while also establishing necessary protections, such as consent processes and meter thresholds, to ease privacy concerns.

Businesses

Clear and consistent data access policies help private companies that rely on customer-level energy usage data to provide energy tools and services for their customers. Guidelines can help these businesses navigate within and across states and remove market-entry barriers, such as overly burdensome customer consent processes. Access to data enables innovation, resulting in tools that can improve energy-savings outcomes for all residents and businesses in the state.

Utilities

Statewide data access policies help utilities give their customers—including residents, businesses, and public entities—the data they want while minimizing risk. Regulatory processes that result in standardization of language around data access and consent relieve utilities of risks related to case-by-case interpretation, “thereby conserving resources and removing any potential for confusing or conflicting interpretations” (see Illinois Commerce Commission Docket 15-0073). Data access guidelines can also deepen energy savings from utility energy efficiency programs. According to a report by Mission:data, allowing customers easy access to meter data can lead to energy savings upwards of 6%. When states proactively establish data access policies, they can help utilities streamline future system upgrades by ensuring, for example, that IT systems are designed to meet statewide data access expectations.

Regulators

Regulators in several states have found that data access is critical to driving new energy models that rely on customer service innovations. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) details these opportunities in its report, Value of Customer Data Access—Market Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities. By proactively considering data access, regulators can also eliminate the need to play catch up as cities pass benchmarking ordinances that require access to utility data. Taking a forward-looking view also lets regulators combine data access proceedings with other issues, including IT system upgrades, advance metering infrastructure (AMI), and smart grid considerations.

Where to Begin?

Proceedings

Identify whether data access guidelines fit within an upcoming proceeding; if not, establish a separate proceeding related to data access. Data access is commonly dealt with in proceedings related to advanced metering infrastructure and grid modernization, but several states have also chosen to open new proceedings to discuss a range of energy usage data issues.

  • In Massachusetts, the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) identified meter data access as a core component of a grid modernization proceeding. DPU 12-76-A called on utilities to describe strategies around secure data access within the grid modernization context. However DPU ultimately decided to address privacy and sharing issues related to interval data in a separate proceeding.
  • New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative focuses primarily on distributed energy resources. Specific data access issues have been scattered throughout REV-related proceedings. For example, REV’s Track 2 Order, which focuses on ratemaking and utility revenue models, deals specifically with data access as an earnings opportunity, noting that basic data must be free of charge. The Commission also made adoption of Green Button Connect a condition for Con Edison’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) roll out.
  • Arizona opened a docket in 2014 specifically to investigate issues related to releasing customer information, focusing on privacy and confidentiality concerns. No final rules have been developed, but the proceeding does include a set of draft rules proposed by the Corporation Commission.

Issues and Use Cases

Consider which issues and use cases to include in the proceeding. Some regulatory bodies deal with a broad scope of data access issues within a single proceeding, while others deal with individual data access questions as they arise. To start, regulators may wish to identify several major use cases, defining the data user, aggregation level, and required data points. Types of users to consider in these use cases include state agencies, local governments, research institutions, solar installers, and building owners. Regulators should specify which key data points the proceeding will focus on (and the level of aggregation). As examples, state and local agencies may seek aggregated data within specific geographic boundaries for planning purposes; building owners may need aggregated whole-building data for benchmarking; and individual customers may need to access their own interval data to use energy efficiency tools and services. Regulators should be clear about which users will be impacted by the proceeding and the conditions under which they can use the data. Also, consider the limits on how data can be used—for example, can it be used for marketing purposes?

Resources for determining key data points and use cases:

  • California identified 12 use cases in Decision 14-05-016 of its smart grid technologies proceeding. These use cases include local governments seeking access to aggregated data and data to evaluate mandated programs; building owners seeking data for benchmarking purposes; efficiency contractors seeking access to aggregate energy consumption data to validate their work’s quality; and efficiency program implementers seeking data to measure the impacts of retrofit programs.
  • Elevate Energy divided these issues into What, How, and Who in its presentation to the Minnesota Public Utility Commission.
  • Mission:data divides key data points into three categories: consumption data, tariff database, and bills.
  • The District of Columbia’s Sustainable DC Act of 2014 includes a provision mandating that both electric and gas utilities provide aggregated whole-building data when building owners request it. These data are then made available for download, as well as for automated upload to ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager. Data are aggregated to the whole-building level for five or more accounts to address any privacy concerns and simplify the process of benchmarking multitenant buildings.
  • The US Department of Energy (DOE) lists common users and data types in A Regulator’s Privacy Guide to Third-Party Data Access for Energy Efficiency.

Data Access and Usage Guidelines

Focus on streamlined process and enforcement. Developing standard language removes a utility’s responsibility for determining allowable usage. For example, customers may want to use an automated tool to give their energy data to a third party, such as an energy efficiency service company. Commission-developed guidelines for third-party (i.e. efficiency program implementer) access typically include a statement of purpose, a discussion of prohibitions or allowable data-sharing cases, and an authorization period with an expiration date. Some state utility commissions explicitly require utilities to provide energy use data to customers in a standardized electronic format, which can help facilitate sharing with third-party energy management services. With clear customer consent, these energy efficiency service companies can then work with residents and businesses to provide valuable insights on building energy data and potential energy efficiency investments. Regulators can also address potential privacy-related obstacles by clarifying privacy protection and permissible information-sharing practices through data aggregation requirements. Data access guidelines can facilitate data transmission from utilities directly to third parties (with customer permission), while also addressing privacy concerns that may pose barriers to data sharing. Regulators can also play an important role in determining consequences for third parties that violate these guidelines.

  • Illinois Docket 15-0073 covers many of these key issues. The Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) issued third-party data usage guidelines that include stipulations around how an efficiency program implementer can receive customer consent for access to energy usage data. Third-party program implementers are required to obtain agreement from utility customers for use of their data; that agreement must include a description of purpose, limiting data usage to that purpose. However, the ICC elected not to limit acceptable data use purposes provided a customer knowingly consents, instead opting for a fill-in-the-blank description of purpose to permit flexibility. The ICC clarified that, because the data usage agreement is between the customer and the third party, utilities do not play a role in approving the statement of purpose; rather, it is for customers to decide acceptable use. The guidelines include prohibitions on data sharing, with some allowances for contracted third parties using data for specific purposes. They also include a 24-month prospective authorization period, although several interveners noted that longer timeframes may be useful in specific cases such as large building retrofit projects that require multiple years of billing analysis upon completion.
  • California’s Pacific Gas & Electric has an online system that lets specific entities request energy usage data for specific purposes, such as complying with benchmarking ordinances or conducting academic research. The data request program was established as part of the California Public Utilities Commission’s Decision 14-05-016 requiring utilities to provide access to energy usage data to researchers and government agencies. Data is available to qualified recipients in aggregated, anonymized, and customer-specific forms.

Legal Frameworks

Employ established legal frameworks and guidelines. Even if states choose not to deal with all elements of data access regulation in a single proceeding, commissions can pull from many existing resources as they consider access to energy usage data. Using these pre-existing frameworks creates consistency for utilities and third-party energy service providers that operate across state lines. It also may help regulators move quickly through the more specific details of data access guidelines, as the frameworks have been verified by federal agencies, state regulators, and utilities.

Resources include the following:

  • The DOE’s Voluntary Code of Conduct (VCC) offers principles for utility and third-party conduct. The VCC covers issues related to data privacy and smart grid.
  • Green Button is an industry-led effort that provides a standardized format for giving customers access to their own energy usage data (Green Button Download My Data). It also automates the secure transfer of their energy usage data to authorized third parties (Green Button Connect My Data).
  • The U.S. Green Building Council issued draft legislative text for state or local governments to improve building energy data access based on NARUC’s July 2011 resolution.
  • Illinois issued Standard Authorization Language for accessing energy usage data for non-billing purposes by retail electric suppliers (Docket 14-0701) and by third-party energy service providers (Docket 15-0073).
 

[1] Although customers typically have access to monthly data through their energy bills, smart meters let utilities collect and disburse interval data—that is, meter data collected at specific intervals, such as every 15 minutes or every hour.