A good first step on data access
This blog post was cowritten by Katie Jones and Audrey Partridge.
On July 16, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission held a hearing on a petition filed by the Citizen’s Utility Board of Minnesota (CUB), requesting that the Commission set a wide-ranging set of standardized rules that would enable utilities to share energy usage data with third parties other than the customer. CEE participated in the hearing and recommended that the Commission move forward with one narrow initiative included in CUB’s petition, a statewide standard for sharing aggregated energy usage data at a whole building level. Building-level energy data is used to benchmark buildings’ energy use against other similar buildings in a community. Building benchmarking is a fundamental tool for promoting and implementing energy efficiency.
Ultimately, the Commission agreed with CEE and approved a data aggregation standard for building-level energy usage data for the state’s large investor-owned utilities. The Commission also determined that other types of data included in CUB’s proposal require additional stakeholder discussions, and potentially additional technical analysis, and initiated a process to explore further actions on data access.
We at CEE commend the Commission for this decision, a critically important step for communities across Minnesota that have or want to start a building benchmarking program.
Before the Commission’s decision, utilities could choose their own building-level data aggregation standard and change that standard as they wished. This created the potential for uncertainty and risk for communities interested in building benchmarking. What if a utility’s data aggregation standard changed after a community developed a benchmarking program and the associated software tools? How would communities structure a building benchmarking program if there were multiple utilities with differing data aggregation standards?
The Commission’s decision created a consistent and stable data aggregation standard, which will enable communities to implement successful building benchmarking policies and programs, as well as reduce confusion for building owners.
The Commission selected the whole-building data aggregation standard we recommended, known as the “4 by 50” standard. This means that utilities can aggregate and share data with building owners for buildings with at least four customer accounts, if no individual customer uses more than 50% of the building’s total energy usage. The basis for this standard was developed by the Department of Energy’s national labs — see the links listed below. Minnesota has had years of experience with the 4 by 50 building-level data aggregation standard. It’s the standard that Xcel Energy has used since 2015 and CenterPoint Energy has used since 2019, and it is the basis for benchmarking programs that CEE helped develop and implement in Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Louis Park, and Edina.
As noted above, building benchmarking programs are a fundamental tool for energy efficiency improvements in Minnesota’s existing building stock. Benchmarking provides important data for building owners about how energy use in their building compares to similar buildings. This information enables building owners to make decisions about investments in energy efficiency, which saves energy and also saves money for the building owners and tenants.
Moreover, building benchmarking is a critical tool in meeting Minnesota’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. Greenhouse gas emissions from buildings account for nearly 40% of total greenhouse gas emissions globally. With Minnesota’s cold climate and high heating load, the building sector is critical for addressing carbon emissions in our state.
Whether and how to share customer usage data are hard and difficult decisions. In our opinion, the Commission made a balanced and measured decision, moving forward with a well-supported building-level data aggregation standard and setting up a focused, ongoing process to determine the best approach for other types of data where there is less experience and research to rely upon. It was a good first step.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: Evaluation of U.S. Building Energy Benchmarking and Transparency Programs: Attributes, Impacts, and Best Practices
Better Buildings Solution Center: Statistical Analysis of Data Access and Privacy