By Andy Frank and Kiran Bhatraju States don’t need utility data to get energy data

The success of the HOMES program depends on easy access to accurate energy data—and homeowners, not utilities, have the right to decide how, when, and with whom to share it.

The success of the HOMES program depends on easy access to accurate energy data—and homeowners, not utilities, have the right to decide how, when, and with whom to share it.

This piece is co-authored by Andy Frank and Kiran Bhatraju. Andy Frank is the Founder and President of Sealed. Kiran Bhatraju is the Founder and CEO of Arcadia.

They say what’s measured gets managed. In the world of energy efficiency and electrification, that means measuring energy usage, both before and after improvements like weatherization and heat pumps are installed. Consumer access to energy data is therefore a critical component to investments that stop energy waste. 

The stakes became even higher with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Among other things, the IRA includes the $4.3 Billion HOMES program that provides incentives for whole-home retrofits based on estimated or actual energy savings. To estimate and calculate savings, energy data is required before and/or after project installation. 

Historically, many government officials and others have looked to utilities to provide this data. Utilities bill their customers based on the amount of energy used, and therefore have access to customers’ energy usage history. And while some utilities across the country have created tools to make it easier for their customers to share energy data, most unfortunately have not. 

IRA rebates that rely on utility data partnerships can seem like an impossible problem to solve.  Utilities require regulatory approvals for investments in data infrastructure, and often move slowly even when they are committed to creating better data-sharing tools. Unless a state already has utility data partnerships, how can they possibly comply with the provisions of the IRA HOMES program that require energy data?

The good news is that their concern, in this case, is misplaced.

Government is not alone in needing energy data to operate. Myriad private companies need energy data for a variety of business purposes: calculating energy savings, meeting their ESG goals, and optimizing usage. These private-sector companies demonstrate that utilities don’t need to be relied upon to provide energy data. For example, close to 400 private companies with more than $100 billion in market capitalization currently use Arcadia’s platform to gather utility data—all through customer consent, with no action from the utility required.

In other words, the private sector is not waiting for utilities. We’ve moved on and so can state energy offices and other policymakers. 

It’s certainly true that some utilities are better intentioned than others, having provided easy ways for various stakeholders—homeowners, contractors, aggregators—to access energy data. But only a few utility companies have created tools that make it easy for homeowners and third parties to easily access customer-authorized energy data. 

Take, for instance, the Green Button Initiative. Started more than a decade ago, its purpose was to encourage utilities to easily share energy data from the meter. Yet in 13 years, only a dozen utilities have bought into the program.

Even energy suppliers, who have the legal right to access energy data directly from utilities, still experience significant challenges in obtaining accurate, comprehensive, and real-time data from utilities. Various organizations, such as Mission:data, continue to fight for better energy data access directly from utilities—and the private sector would assuredly benefit from utilities making data access easier and more stable. 

But slow-footedness from utility companies tells us one thing: We can’t rely on them as we roll out the HOMES program and other incentives that provide incentives based on measured savings. State Energy Offices (SEOs) are operating on a clock. If states wait on utilities, the funds may never start flowing, and that’s a chance we cannot take.

The IRA’s HOMES program is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the market for whole-home retrofits that dramatically reduce homes’ energy and carbon footprints.

We should look to the private sector, which has stepped into this energy-data void with alternative (and, in many cases, better) tools to access customer-authorized energy data. Companies like Arcadia have built software for companies like Sealed that enables access to customer-authorized energy data, directly from a homeowner’s utility bill, at tremendous scale—and without any utility data partnerships. Contractors and other market actors routinely collect energy data directly from homeowners, including hard-to-reach data such as deliveries of fuel oil and other non-metered energy sources.

In addition to forward-looking software, new hardware solutions make grabbing energy data a cinch. Wireless sensors, smart energy monitors, and advanced electric panels all provide high-frequency energy data without any utility data partnerships (or permission.) 

Admittedly, data-sharing isn’t part of the utility business model. (Although it should be!) What’s more, building modern software to interact with third parties is not something with which many utilities are experienced doing. 

Policymakers, including the U.S. Department of Energy and SEOs, must reset their assumptions about what access to energy data means. Data-access flexibility needs to be the key policy principle that the HOMES program and other energy efficiency programs are built around. That means aggregators, contractors, and other market actors should be allowed to get energy data from any reliable source. SEOs should encourage utilities to provide tools that enable customer-authorized access to energy data, but should not rely on them for any program decisions.

Most importantly: Policymakers should remember that energy data belongs to the customer. The success of the HOMES program depends on easy access to accurate energy data—and homeowners, not utilities, have the right to decide how, when, and with whom to share it.

Andy Frank is the Founder and President of Sealed, a climate tech company on a mission to stop home energy waste and electrify all homes. Sealed designs, manages, and finances home weatherization and electrification projects.

Kiran Bhatraju is the Founder and CEO of Arcadia, a climate tech company on a mission to stop climate change by breaking the fossil fuel monopoly and creating unprecedented access to energy data and renewable energy sources.

June 8, 2023