Utility-Enabled Whole Building Data Access: The Problems, Processes and Possibilities
Part One: The Problems
Building energy consumption remains an unsolved problem at scale – it takes baselines across all building types and sizes to drive meaningful change. Utility data is the key, but easy, consistent access has stalled progress for years. This blog series explores barriers, practical approaches, and stakeholder benefits around utility-enabled whole building data access.
Building Level Utility Data: The Dual Reality
A key to scaling building sector climate solutions, and a long-standing barrier.
Existing buildings account for nearly 40% of energy consumption in the U.S.1 Moreover, direct and indirect emissions from buildings rose to 10 GtCO2 globally in 2019, the largest amount ever recorded and a serious threat to our climate.2 Meaningful change starts with reducing consumption, continues with investing in energy efficiency and retrofits, and leads to transforming buildings into grid-interactive assets – none of which can happen at scale without baseline data for every building.
In an individual building with an energy efficiency plan, the options abound. Technologies, systems, sustainable building practices – put together, a building owner can do a great deal to reduce consumption. Across even a small portfolio of properties, there is potential for significant return on investment. Working towards grid-interactive efficient buildings (GEBs) represents even more potential across multiple stakeholders.
However, as sophisticated as they are, building-specific mechanisms to understand consumption (and the investments they require) cannot move the needle sector-wide. Any scalable approach requires that every building start with a baseline. Only then can bold, progressive solutions finally take shape. The historical data needed resides in utility systems, and that’s where things get complicated. Though utility data is a key ingredient to scaling climate solutions, today, accessing it is usually a barrier.
From city to city and territory to territory, the landscape of utility data access looks different. Scaling approaches to building sector energy efficiency, grid-interactivity and decarbonization starts with a new approach to utility-enabled whole building data access.
The industry needs utilities, policy drivers and the commercial real estate stakeholders working together to champion a new data access model. Why? Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington DC have long established mandatory benchmarking ordinances. DC is now moving to a Building Energy Performance Standard (BEPS), mandating a minimum threshold of energy performance, while Chicago and Philadelphia are evaluating BEPS.
There’s no question what the future looks like; we will be forced to solve for this.
Broadening the Scope of Building Data Access: From Owner-Occupied to Multi-Tenant and Mixed-Use
Without access to energy consumption data, many buildings have no baseline.
Consider a home and its residential utility bill. On some interval, utilities will provide a data comparison chart – how that customer’s energy consumption stacks up to similar customers. This benchmark is an important flag for homeowners – showing their relative performance and potentially inspiring behavioral changes or the exploration of other corrections or upgrades.
Now, imagine a mixed-use commercial and residential building with dozens of account-holding tenants in it. That helpful comparison chart doesn’t exist. And the owner of the property doesn’t have any insight into what’s happening at the building level. When it comes to understanding what a full range of building types across the sector are consuming over time, that’s a problem. Sector decarbonization depends on addressing all building types: Residential homes and owner-operated commercial, yes, but also multi-tenant commercial, mixed use, multifamily and more. Further, compliance with evolving energy performance policies increasingly requires utility-enabled solutions for each of those use cases.
A sector-wide approach means recognizing the opportunity and serving every building.
Over the years working closely with utilities to offer building energy data access solutions to all building types, Calico has seen the following distribution of buildings participating:
As previously stated, multi-family and mixed-use building owners face a unique obstacle: tenants own their individual consumption data and building owners need aggregated totals to comply with relevant ordinances and evaluate potential for any further steps. Multitenancy is the primary pain point and why we don’t have baseline data at scale for much of our building sector.
Baseline data for buildings of every type is the first step toward scaling energy efficiency investments, advanced energy management, renewables, and grid edge technologies in buildings. Research from The Rockefeller Foundation3 projects that $279B invested in energy efficiency retrofits equals $1 trillion in savings over ten years, reductions of up to 600 million metric tons of Co2 a year and 3.3 million new jobs. The Biden Administration’s GEB Roadmap estimates 401 TWh per year 4 in potential returns from grid-interactive efficient buildings (GEBs). New York City’s Local Law 97 is forecasted to expand their retrofit market by 10-13x.
These numbers about the potential are clear but reaching any forecasted returns at scale depends on scaling access to data first. That’s where utilities come back into the picture, and where there are little-understood barriers standing in the way.
The Barriers to Access: Utility Processes Today
As described earlier, many buildings don’t easily fit into a simple, single unit, owner-occupied data request scenario. That makes it difficult for utilities to get them data – here’s why:
Barrier 1 – Utilities don’t store the notion of a building. So, while they have the customer and meter information, they don’t automatically recognize which of their customers reside in any given building. Buildings have never mattered to their business model, so it’s not data they have.
Barrier 2 – Not every entity requesting data is a utility customer. Some are building managers, others energy efficiency consultants, while some are non-occupant owners. These stakeholders need data to make informed decisions but can’t access it or be authenticated through a customer-only portal. They also aren’t a persona utilities consider in success metrics – financial or otherwise.
Barrier 3 – Buildings don’t always align with typical customer segmentation and program design – meaning, they don’t neatly fall into typical utility C&I, SMB or residential categories. They often blur the lines between residential and commercial, which means solutions to building-related issues isn’t clearly mappable to existing utility teams or operations.
The result of all these barriers? In many cases, multi-tenant building level data simply isn’t available from utilities. Where it is, utility solutions for data access and aggregation are often manual and time-consuming for all. To evaluate efficiency potential and more, and to comply with increasingly thorough building-focused energy policies, the building sector needs reliable, easy access to accurate data across building types. Luckily, a successful model for utility-enabled whole building data access exists, and it’s beneficial to all involved.
Want more information?
Stay tuned to part two of our series Utility-Enabled Whole Building Data Access: The Processes to learn more.
1 U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2018: Consumption and Efficiency, https://www.eia.gov/consumption/
2 IEA, Tracking Buildings 2020, June 2020, https://www.iea.org/reports/tracking-buildings-2020
3 Rockefellar Foundation, United States Building Energy Efficiency Retrofits, March 2012, https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/United-States-Building-Energy-Efficiency-Retrofits.pdf
4 U.S. Department of Energy, A National Roadmap of Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings, https://gebroadmap.lbl.gov/A%20National%20Roadmap%20for%20GEBs-20210712.pdf
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