Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More Solutions to the Problem of Obtaining Electronic Energy Data

Obtaining electronically energy data (mainly usage and price information from electricity and gas utility bills) is a perennial problem for corporations that need a robust corporate program for energy or sustainability management.   Data acquisition can represents up to 50% of the overall project costs and causes risk to the project success. This problem is particularly acute for companies with operations in the U.S. It simply doesn't matter how good the energy or sustainability software is if data are missing.

The good news is that innovation is coming to the market.   Start-up Urjanet, the UtilitySync service from Hara, and the Green Button Initiative are three efforts lower this cost for organizations.

The acquisition of energy data is not a trivial problem for successful implementations of corporate energy management or enterprise carbon accounting software.     Managers at corporations with many facilities around the globe (involving dozens and dozens of utilities) could spend hundreds of hours obtaining the energy data themselves or pestering local accounts payable or facility managers for the data.  

Because of this data acquisition problem, some firms have decided to forgo the investment in enterprise carbon accounting and sustainability software for the purchase of a utility bill management service. Utility bill management services offer outsourced utility data entry, bill verification, electronic data feeds to energy management or carbon management software, and other services. Vendors with leading this service are Summit Energy (now a part of Schneider Electric), Ecova (formerly advantage IQ), Pace Global (now a part of Siemens), Entech, EnerNOC, EnergyCAP, and NISC.

Organizations however can have the benefit advanced energy and carbon accounting software packages with the help of emerging solutions to this costly problem.  Here are three: 

Atlanta-based Urjanet has built a cloud-based integration layer between 600 U.S. utilities and leading energy management and enterprise carbon systems.   Early customers include Cox Enterprises which spends $100m annually on electric and gas with 190 utilities. Urjanet recently closed a USD $4m Series B round of financing, led by Grotech Ventures.

UtilitySync is service developed by Hara with Intuit. UtilitySync checks utility websites for new data daily, providing customers their latest monthly billing and consumption values automatically via a single dashboard within 1-2 days of the bill being published online. Tandus Flooring is one of the initial customers for this service.

The Green Button Initiative is an industry-wide program to provide companies with electronic access to electricity data and was start in response to a White House call-to-action.   The effort is supported by large utilities such as PG&E, San Diego Gas & Electric, and others. Software developers and other related vendors have also pledged to help with this effort.

These three efforts are all promising and will solve some of the data problem for some customers.

However, we have a very long way to go, particularly in the U.S., before companies have easy and cost effective electronic utility bill data for all their facilities. The U.S. market has thousands of utilities, and, unlike the banking industry which experienced rapid adoption of electronic data sharing, the utilities are not in highly competitive markets and customer switching costs are extremely high.   The reality for organization leaders is that data acquisition will continue to be a problem for years.

So, in the mean time, corporate managers should evaluate these services to alleviate some but not all of their energy data acquisition problem.  

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