Data unlocks understanding, and those who control data collection and analysis can wield considerable power. Data is a big part of evaluating PV performance and cost, but the industry still has a lot to discover and figure out (this is apparent when utilities and regulators discuss how to value distributed generation), which is why the following news is encouraging: The Energy Department launched a new Orange Button initiative, which will increase solar market transparency and fair pricing by establishing data standards for the industry.
The SunShot Initiative’s Orange Button project will do for solar what the Green Button project did for energy use data and the Blue Button project did for health records: simplify and standardize solar data so that state governments, customers, utilities, financiers, solar companies, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders can exchange quality data.
In order to understand the financial risk of solar energy project development, the solar energy community relies on fragmented datasets released by state energy offices and a limited number of private organizations regarding project origination, grid integration, operations, and retirement. These datasets vary widely in format, quality and content, which makes it difficult for potential providers to have an accurate understanding of potential markets. The Orange Button project will standardize this data, making it easier to share and secure, which will ensure a more standardized and transparent marketplace.
Establishing data standards and sharing key datasets throughout the industry will reduce the cost of capital for new solar energy projects by making information about the potential performance of solar projects more readily available and easy to understand. Implementing the Orange Button standards for accessible, self-sustaining, industry-regulated data marketplaces will improve the ability of apps, software, and other websites to store and use energy data and will ensure that the evolving data needs of the solar industry are met. These data marketplaces will help the solar community to rapidly share quality data and will increase competition by improving cost, performance, and pricing transparency.
This initiative was kicked off with nearly $4 million worth projects to increase access to solar data. The four awardees are as follows:
• kWh Analytics (San Francisco, California) will receive $1 million to develop a data format translation tool that will instantly translate individual data formats into standardized data formats, significantly reducing efforts and time required from data standards adopters.
• National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Golden, Colorado) will receive $400,000 to develop a platform that will enable data sharing across the solar marketplace in support of consensus-based data standards.
• Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (Boston, Massachusetts) will receive $615,426 to lead a 24-month stakeholder and public engagement effort that will help drive out inefficiencies in data exchanges and thereby reduce non-hardware “soft costs” associated with solar projects.
• SunSpec Alliance (Santa Clara, California) will receive $1,638,765 to establish an open, commercially-embraced solar data exchange system that will enable the free flow of data between commercial software products that addresses all aspects of the solar energy system life cycle. The data exchange system will be comprised of uniform data taxonomy, information models, application program interfaces, a compliance test suite, and reference software.
These new projects build on the work of the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative to grow markets that support solar businesses and increase solar access and deployment, making solar energy affordable and accessible for all Americans.