The Promise Of Open Energy Data

by David Leipziger, via the Institute For Market Transformation

Last month, New York City became the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to publicly post energy efficiency information for its building stock. The data—a maze of mind-numbing Excel tables—is hard to sort through. But it’s a critical first step to opening up energy transparency in the real estate market.

As we’ve noted, benchmarking and disclosing energy efficiency info is a rapidly growing trend among U.S. cities. In Europe, this kind of data is already available on a national scale. Many of the countries that drafted rating policies at the behest of the EPBD Directive also created national databases for Energy Performance Certificates (labels relating a building’s relative efficiency) that are public and web-searchable.

As of 2010, the Building Energy Performance Institute Europe reported that the list includes Denmark, Belgium (Flanders region), Ireland, Portugal, and the Netherlands. But the U.S. isn’t far behind, especially given that we have many more buildings to accommodate, diverse local requirements for energy performance reporting, and ambitious open data plans.


The Standard Energy Efficiency Data (SEED) Platform is a nearly-realized project from the U.S. Department of Energy. Its purpose is to provide a free building energy data management tool to governments sifting through reported data. It’s designed to be flexible and accommodating—the database can handle quantitative or qualitative information and, most importantly, data can be pulled automatically by researchers or by other sites for graphic display.

It’s a pretty serious endeavor, if hard to visualize right now. But this data has incredible potential for innovative uses and visualizations…

Using the Data

One example of how this data can be used is, a site that uses energy performance data to support a vast green-building network.

Part business network, part advertisement, part social media, the site allows tenants to review their buildings, buyers to review building energy performance, and managers to find qualified local contractors.

Another utilization will be in targeting energy services. Already, efficiency companies in Massachusetts are using thermal imaging (see photo below) on a neighborhood scale to identify energy-inefficient homes.

Visualizations for large buildings using SEED data would be slightly different, but creative adaptations of the data (combined with Google Maps and other geographic tools) could enable a powerful new way to depict energy performance.

Other Possibilities

Yet another possibility for this data is as a research tool. The U.S. Green Building Council is developing a new data platform called the Green Building Information Gateway (GBIG), which allows users to track all kinds of environmental info geographically. With data feeds from SEED and other open systems, tools like GBIG could show you correlations between energy use, LEED ratings, sale prices, and park access.


One last takeaway is that SEED energy data will be pulled to create visualizations of building stock for lots of purposes, including business development, research, education, advocacy, and urban planning. As more and more places gather data, this platform will become a more powerful and flexible tool.

David Leipziger works across numerous programs at IMT in a research and project management capacity. He is also the Managing Editor of, a website launched in early 2011 to be the global hub for building energy rating information. This piece was originally published at IMT’s The Current and was reprinted with permission.

5 Responses to The Promise Of Open Energy Data

  1. fj says:

    Can it be more than a dream that NYC may become the first major net zero city within this decade?

    It certainly seems to be attempting some very dramatic advancements and going net zero will not only provide terrific local benefit but show what can be done.

    Something is not impossible if it has already been done.

  2. Darwin's Chihuahua says:

    Wow. Use evidence. Novel concept. But will it ever catch on in America, where the current election race seems to support the view that Americans care more about style over substance?

  3. AA says:

    It would be nearly impossible to get NYC to net-zero, the demand/generation mismatch is too great.

    That’s not to say NYC can’t be “green.”

    The funny thing is that a building in midtown Manhattan could use less energy per square foot than a building in an Arizona office park, yet the office park would have an easier time being “net-zero” simply because it could deploy more PV.

  4. fj says:

    Thanks. Impossible is the first thing that people say when something is possible.


  5. AA says:

    Note that I said “nearly impossible.” I’d file it under “nuclear fusion and other improbable breakthroughs.”

    Before I go on let me begin by clarifying that when you say “net-zero” I assume you mean the city generates as much renewable electricity within its borders as it consumes. If you relax the definition, it obviously makes “net-zero” easier to achieve.

    It could be done in theory, but it will be very very hard and the result wouldn’t look anything like NYC as we know it today.

    The problem is pretty simple: there aren’t enough photons hitting NYC to run the city at anywhere near it’s current consumption levels.

    The first step would be *drastically* reducing energy consumption, and that has value whether you get to “net-zero” or not. If you reduce your demand by 80%, who cares whether the PV is on your building or somewhere else (preferably somewhere sunny)? Assuming its occupants use even modest amounts of electricity, Manhattan can never be “net-zero;” the outer boroughs would have to generate surplus electricity to supply it.

    NYC can become a green showcase. It just won’t be making its own electricity.