Five Different Languages in One Industry

Five Different Languages in One Industry
May 18, 2011 Scott Case

A very-much-not-fun look at the inconsistent ways that energy efficiency measures are described in our industry

Developing an energy retrofit program that works involves putting together a big puzzle with lots of pieces: create a great consumer marketing concept; encourage social competitiveness in energy efficiency; measure rebate and marketing investments to ensure that they’re cost-effective; train contractors; the list just goes on.

Some of these pieces are really exciting to work on and fun to talk about. Today we’re going to tackle one that’s definitely not.

Not exciting. Not fun.

But it’s critical in analyzing the effectiveness of programs on an apples-to-apples basis within and across state boundaries: a universal taxonomy for installed energy efficiency and renewable measures. That’s a fancy way of saying, “We all have to use the same names for stuff.”

A Universal Taxonomy of Energy Efficiency Measures

In our work over the past few months with some of our clients – especially Utah Home Performance with ENERGY STAR, Clean Energy Works Oregon and Community Power Works (Seattle) – we’ve come to realize that there is no clear industry naming and categorization standard for measures that can potentially be installed in residential home energy projects.

Each and every in-home audit tool, industry database, utility rebate set that we’ve encountered thus far has used different naming conventions for efficiency measures. And there are multiple ongoing efforts to create industry standards, none of which, of course, match up exactly.

Among them:

  • NREL Database of Residential Efficiency Measures: Maintained by NREL and updated every six months, this database seems to be the most comprehensive of the industry standards out there, and it includes typical cost data for specific upgrades within measures.
  • Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Reporting Requirements: In support of the thirty four Better Buildings programs sponsored by the Department of Energy, an XML reporting schema was developed that allows each program to report back its results in terms of installed measures.
  • HPXML Standard (Working Draft): Now under the leadership of the Building Performance Institute, the HPXML standard is meant to allow for standardized communications between home performance contractors and energy efficiency programs through software. (Full Disclosure: EnergySavvy’s CEO Aaron Goldfeder serves on the HPXML technical working group.)
  • State-specific Measure Lists: Various state utility commissions maintain their own measure lists for the purposes of tracking savings associated with each measure implemented in the state. For instance, the California Public Utility Commission has its Database of Energy Efficient Resources (DEER), which has its own naming system for measures.

To give a couple of examples of what we mean:

NREL Measure Name Equivalent HPXML Measure Name Equivalent Better Buildings Measure Name
Tank Water Heater
Tankless Water Heater
Hot Water Heater Water Heater

These are minor differences, but different enough to make it impossible for multiple software systems to make apples-to-apples comparisons without a manual mapping exercise. More confusing is the taxonomy for measures involving foundation and floor insulation:

NREL Measure Names Equivalent HPXML Measure Names Equivalent Better Buildings Measure Names
Floor Above Uncond Bsmt
Floor Above Crawlspace
Crawlspace Wall
Basement Wall
Insulate Foundation
Crawlspace Ceiling
Crawlspace Walls
Rim/Band Joist Insulation
Floor/Foundation Insulation

Out of necessity, we’ve been mapping the various measure names from “industry standards” efforts and in-home audit tools to create an EnergySavvy internal measure taxonomy. From that list, we can map back to any other standard, but there are inevitably one or two new measures from each source that just don’t fit into any existing measure name.

This gets even more complex for utilities and programs that operate across multiple states and have to contend with varying public service commission ‘deemed savings’ measure standards.

A Call to Action

Our goal with this blog post is to start a conversation, learn what other people are doing here and collaborate. We’ve got the luxury of being the “new guys” in the industry, which means that we often make dumb mistakes, but also that we sometimes see things in a different way that’s closer to our company’s founding DNA in web services, online marketing technology and software development.

Just about everyone in the industry wants to see advancements in better data and interoperability. If it can be done for real estate transactions and patient treatments in the medical industry, we can do it in energy efficiency. A few thoughts on how we can start to get there:

  • If you’re the kind of data geek that actually does get excited about this, and made it to the end of this post, We’d love to hear your thoughts.
  • If you’ve got another standard measure list that we should know about, map into our existing efforts, or rally around, please let us know!
  • And if you are a utility or energy efficiency program, be sure to ask your software vendors about interoperability to at least make sure that they are supporting one of the emerging standards, at least until everyone picks a single winner.

Scott Case
VP Product Management, EnergySavvy