The Power of Open Data and Collaboration for the Utility Industry

“Entrepreneurs and others will respond with creative and surprising submissions, and open data will be at the heart of the value they propose to create.”Chris Irwin, Department of Energy 

True change takes collaboration, passion and vision. To DataCapable, change means pushing in a new, productive direction. Enter open data and its role in the electric utility industry:

Just what is open data? Open data is any data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike. The goal is to use open data to empower developers, researchers, and professionals with information that can be used to derive new insights, product functionalities, and value across a diverse range business cases.

The open data movement has the opportunity to unlock spectacular gains in efficiency for Utilities. Initiatives such as The Green Button (programmatic sharing of energy use data) and the Outage Data Initiative (programmatic sharing of outage data) are two specific examples where the value of open data is already being proven. Both of these programs – representing only a few among many – have the enthusiastic support of federal agencies, established industry players and the startup community.

Outage Data Initiative: The Department of Energy recently published estimates that outages cost the United States $25 to $70 billion annually. The Outage Data Initiative enables utilities to share outage data with other utilities, emergency responders and government officials, serving as a means of expediting RedButtonrestoration activities. Efficiency gains from data sharing can be achieved in numerous areas including crew staging and proactive customer messaging, while the data itself will support new types of robust prediction algorithms. Bottom line: open data is going to help get the lights back on faster.

The Green Button: The Green Button data enables application developers to provide Utility customers with transparent insights into customers’ own power usage habits through a simple, standardized, and secure interface. Accessibility of straightforward information about power usage enables customer self-service (yielding efficiency gains in GreenButtonUtility customer support), and furthermore, consumer-facing data products are an excellent way for companies to innovate and provide new products and services. The Green Button is a much needed, and welcomed, development in utility innovation, and one that gives Utilities and application developers a new level of flexibility in leveraging open data to deliver new and exciting products to benefit Utility customers.

While The Green Button and Outage Data Initiative both present the opportunity to connect developers, utilities and customers with the data they need, there’s always more that can be done!


Value is unlocked by embracing standards and web services that enable easy sharing of data sets. If you have spent any time developing software for the Utility industry, you may have asked some questions like:

“How do I share data between utilities, has this ever been done?”

“Where can I find the electric utilities service territories (shape files)?”

“Are there any Utility based API’s that I can use to pull public data from?”

“Has anyone collected the utility metadata (contact info, website, social information, etc.) and made it publicly available?”

These questions led DataCapable to get involved with The Green Button and Open Data Initiative, and since then we’ve focused on both contributing to and recruiting likeminded collaborators to the cause. It’s a new era of energy that needs new teams and new ways of thinking. Simply put: data should no longer be viewed as proprietary. We must embrace the idea that data should be open and available to all, so that innovative individuals and teams can compete on their ideas and solutions instead.

Open data has signaled a paradigm shift in views about how data can be collected, shared and used. Marty Burns of The National Institute of Standards recently raised a thought-provoking question:

“Could crowdsourcing in the energy space drive innovation?”

Specifically, could established data aggregation tools like GitHub help to build the data repositories that developers, customers, and existing businesses could leverage to drive new use cases and value in the utility space? We believe without a doubt, that it could.


Department of Energy interns Henry Pappe Meta Data Utilitiesand Jeremy Call had an enormous task: find the essential metadata (addresses, contact information, etc.) for all 3000+ U.S. electricity suppliers. With over 3000 providers to research, and 5 unique data elements to collect, Henry and Jeremy clicked their mice at least 15,000 times for the cause of making progress on the open data front – . The fruits of their labor now enables developers from across the world to leverage these newly aggregated data elements for enhancing both value and creativity within their applications. It’s collaboration, hard work, and vision from industry, utilities, and regulatory all coming together to help energy customers benefiting by embracing open data.

Take a Look Here:


As Chris Irwin has suggested, at the heart of value isn’t the technology, the team, or the product. It’s embracing open data. The challenges we in the industry now face are simply accepting open data’s enormous potential, and embracing the types of collaboration necessary to overcome the historical “siloed” approach to innovation.

Programs like The Green Button initiative and the American Energy Data Challenges are examples that the open data concept can be powerful and these programs only begin to foreshadow the possibilities that a wide embrace of open data can bring to the Utility industry as a whole.

Can you spot theDataCapable at White House DataCapable team member involved in a recent open data event at the White House?

If you want to learn more or maybe even get involved, send us a note! We’ll get you connected to leaders supporting open data work in the Electric Utility industry. And, if you are a developer, take some time exploring this and other data sets found at OpenEI. You may be surprised at the wealth of information the team is collecting.

-Team DataCapable

Oct, 10, 2015