Recent studies have shown that energy-efficiency investments don’t deliver their expected returns largely because these expectations are based on model projections instead of real-life data. Having broader access to consumer data would allow entrepreneurs to target the areas that have the greatest return on investment. Much of the time this data exists, but it is not publicly available because of privacy, liability and financial concerns. A new report released today outlines innovative practices and policies decision makers could use to address these concerns while providing better access to energy use data to improve efficiency.
“This toolkit of solutions provides ways to unleash energy data in a protective way,” says Mark Templeton, the director of the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School. “With access to this data, energy-efficiency companies will be able to help consumers learn what is costing them the most and which energy-efficiency improvements they actually need—from replacing old appliances and installing insulation to changing their behaviors—in order to cut their energy use and energy bills in a cost-effective way.”
Templeton and his students—Evan Feinauer, Sean Fernandes, Cole Francis, Alex Gross, Molly Jardine, Nick Oliver and Anna Sims—created the guide to help policymakers address the concerns of utilities, privacy advocates, third-party energy-efficiency providers and consumers. In addition to offering a toolkit of innovative solutions, the guide provides model rules as examples of language that legislators or regulators could use to implement the solutions.
The most critical of the solutions targets the challenge of privacy. The authors suggest that regulators require utilities and others to aggregate data across groups, time or both and to anonymize the data by removing identifying information.
“The more the data is aggregated and anonymized, the more it will protect consumers’ privacy,” says Nick Oliver. “At the same time, the less the data is aggregated and anonymized, the more valuable it generally is to those seeking to use it to capture important insights about energy consumption habits. So it’s critical to strike the right balance.”
Related to the issue of privacy is the concern of potential liability if unauthorized data is disclosed. The guide details procedures for sharing data securely and clearly allocating liability so that utilities and others can take the necessary steps to protect themselves. It also instructs how to determine which parties can be allowed to receive consumer energy-use data, among other important considerations.
“Eliminating regulatory ambiguities by setting clear rules from the get-go will encourage utilities, energy-efficiency companies, and others to enter into the proper contracts to protect themselves and consumers while allowing the data to flow to improve energy-efficiency decisions,” says Anna Sims.
The authors recognize that each state will interpret the solutions differently in order to balance their unique goals and circumstances. So, some of the laws may favor utilities, while others favor energy-efficiency providers, while still others favor consumers. But regardless of what balance is struck, the authors believe all three groups will be better off by implementing the rules and aiding in the release of energy data.