First it was the Green Button to provide electricity customers with easy access to their energy usage data in a standardized format.
Now the US Department of Energy has launched the equally distinctively named Orange Button initiative, which is aimed to do what Green Button has done by bringing standardization to solar data. With access to high quality data affecting more than half the total price of a residential PV system, the goal is to increase solar market transparency and fair pricing.
Need for standard solar data
Data on solar energy systems, ranging from project origination and grid integration to system performance and electricity production, is widely used throughout the industry by governments, developers, financiers, utilities, consumers and other stakeholders. However, the datasets released by state energy offices and a limited number of private organizations tend to be fragmented and vary widely in format, quality and content. The Orange Button project seeks to standardize this data, making it easier to share and thus both more readily accessible and easier to understand.
With standards the ability of apps, software, and other websites to store and use energy data will be improved 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.
The aim is that once the Orange Button data standards are in place, data producers like solar companies and utilities can embed a graphic showing an orange button into their app, software, or onto their website to show users that a given dataset can be downloaded in the established Orange Button format.
Orange Button development
To develop the Orange Button standards, four organizations have been awarded a total of US$4 million through the DOE’s SunShot initiative. Together they will contribute a further US$4 million in cost sharing towards the projects.
The Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) receives $0.62 million for the first phase 24-month stakeholder and public engagement effort, which will include convening stakeholders and managing working groups to define the requirements of the project. The focus is on driving out inefficiencies in data exchanges and thereby reduce non-hardware "soft costs" associated with solar projects.
In the second phase the SunSpec Alliance, which receives $1.64 million, will establish an open 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.
For the phase 3 work, risk management tool provider kWh Analytics will receive $1 million to develop a data format translation tool, Solar BabelFish, which will instantly translate original data formats into data standards, significantly reducing the effort and time required to adopt the data standards.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) also receives $0.4 million to develop a platform that will enable data sharing across the solar marketplace in support of consensus-based data standards. This platform will provide an open source data repository, easy access to data that is housed on the internet, a central catalog for solar energy data, a means to combine data, a gateway to common data standards, and a searchable interface.
Green Button update
The Orange Button has a good model to follow in the Green Button, which itself is based on the Blue Button initiative for standardized data for healthcare. According to the Green Button website, more than 60 million households and business have access to their energy usage through the Green Button and the numbers of providers committing to offering it are still growing.
Ongoing development and adoption is taking place through the Green Button Alliance. The most recent development is the launch of the Download My Data (DMD) testing and certification programme to enable utilities, energy service providers and solution providers to certify their Green Button offerings. First off the mark to receive certification is Ontario utility London Hydro covering electricity, gas and water usage data.
The Green Button standards are based on the North American Energy Standards Board (NAESB) Energy Services Provider Interface (ESPI) standard. The DMD standard extends the Connect My Data (CMD) standard, which enables authorized access of usage data to third parties.