Energy Savings Guarantees 101 (Part 3): It’s About the Data

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This is the third of a three-part guest blog series by Andy Frank of Sealed on energy savings guarantees. The first post focused on why guarantees matter for selling home performance work. The second post explained how different savings guarantees work. This post discusses the implications of guarantees on the industry and policymakers in the context of #OpenEnergyData.

Part 3: To guarantee savings you need #OpenEnergyData

Savings guarantees are important, but are very hard to implement in a manner that is impactful. So where does that leave the home performance industry, policymakers and other stakeholders?

Luckily, there is a lot that can be done to make energy savings guarantees more prevalent and powerful. This starts and ends with data. In order to best guarantee savings, data on homes undertaking home efficiency improvements is needed to quantify actual savings, variance and other aspects of risk. Unfortunately, this data is difficult to obtain, combine and normalize, with various stakeholders holding different pieces of the puzzle.

The first challenge is simply obtaining data related to home performance improvements. Energy usage data is held by utilities, who typically require confidentiality  agreements and/or customer authorization. Obtaining energy usage data therefore either entails long, complicated negotiations with utilities or persuading homeowner’s to find and share their utility account information and/or usage history for the purpose of research. This has to be done for all energy companies, including hard to track fuels like heating oil and propane in many cases.

Once energy usage data is collected, home and project characteristics must be matched. Most utilities do not have this data, which is instead held by individual home performance contractors and the software used for home energy assessments. Homeowners themselves usually only receive a report that summarizes the assessment findings, so they can’t directly provide this data.

After pre- and post-improvement energy usage and the home and project characteristics are combined, the data must be normalized by weather and energy prices, as well as scrubbed for obvious data entry or modeling errors. This is a tall order, and not something most individual stakeholders can accomplish in isolation.

Currently, the only stakeholders that ever have regular access to all of this data are evaluation, measurement, and verification (EM&V) consultants, although they often are not able to obtain all of the necessary data to perform a comprehensive analysis. EM&V consultants are also limited by a mandate to evaluate entire programs, including many considerations like free-ridership that are not relevant to individual homeowners or savings guarantees. Most EM&V reports therefore simply show average savings across an entire program, not the variability or other factors.

So as with most things these days, the answer lies in a hashtag: #OpenEnergyData.

More specifically, #OpenEnergyData means multi-stakeholder efforts to aggregate, clean and sort relevant data sets into a master Energy Data Center, a concept first proposed in California. More recently, DOE’s Buildings Performance Database (BPD) and  the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) with the Building America Field Data Repository (BAFDR) have taken national leadership on this front.

Screenshot 2014-03-09 17.59.54

A screenshot graphing a slice of the data from the DOE Buildings Performance Database

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be the appropriate sense of urgency in allowing access to these data sets. The BPD in particular has a policy of only allowing derivative analysis, not being able to analyze the raw (anonymized) data. You can see Sealed’s comments to the BPD here. The bottom line is they should be asking their data partners to allow the raw data to be shared.

The BAFDR (which will theoretically feed into BPD) looks to also have a ton of promise. NREL has gathered a good amount of data around home performance results, and are starting to use it to test the accuracy of various software tools. But it will be several years until this data can be analyzed by anyone other than the government, a proposition that is unfortunate given the value it can serve in the private market.

In the meantime, each state and utility company has the opportunity to become a leader. The Investor Confidence Project has been working with several leading state organizations to publish open data on clean energy loan performance. These stakeholders can go much farther by publishing actual energy usage and project characteristic data like air leakage numbers (in New York this was FOIA’d about a year ago – see Ted Kidd’s results here).

There are also many local laws (including New York City’s LL86) to mandate energy disclosure for multi-family and commercial buildings. These energy disclosure laws have already led to innovation and catalyzed new energy startups like WegoWise, which can now publish cool charts. Sealed is trying to do its part, working with the Town of Babylon’s Green Homes Program to publish the variance in realization rates.

Town of Babylon, Sealed, heating fuel, Realization Rates

It is time to bring this level of data transparency to more single-family homes. Sealed is part of the Cleanweb Initiative, and has started a discussion and draft #OpenEnergyData manifesto. Please check it out, give feedback (google doc so you can edit / comment directly), and let us know if you would be willing to sign the manifesto.

The bottom line is guarantees matter, they are difficult to implement, and we must all work together to build the data sets necessary to create more transparency and trust with homeowners and other stakeholders.

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About the Author:

Andy Frank is the Founder and President of Sealed, a new company that guarantees savings from home efficiency improvements.

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