Energy Department Launches Orange Button Initiative to Standardize Solar Data

When evaluating the financial risk involved with a solar energy project, many communities rely on fragmented datasets that vary widely in format, quality, and content. This creates a barrier for potential solar providers who seek an accurate understanding of potential markets.

To overcome this issue, the Department of Energy recently announced the Orange Button initiative, a program aimed at increasing solar market transparency and fair pricing by establishing data standards for the industry. Orange Button targets a reduction in soft costs by streamlining the collection, security, management, exchange, and monetizing of solar datasets across the value chain of solar. The Energy Department awarded $4 million to four project partners who will help launch the initiative: Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, kWh Analytics, and SunSpec Alliance.

Standardizing data will allow for a reduction in soft costs by making it easier to share solar data and speed up processes such as financing, insurance, and grid operation. The project will be divided into three phases: the first phase will convene industry stakeholders to define data requirements, the second phase will formulate data taxonomies and interoperability standards, and the third phase will help develop and implement a data exchange marketplace.

Phase I

During the first phase, Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) will receive $615,426 to convene industry stakeholders and define the requirements of an industry-wide solar data exchange. SGIP will lead a 24-month stakeholder and engagement management project focused on identifying inefficiencies in data exchanges. This project will help integrate data standards across the solar project lifecycle, while still focusing on strengthening and enabling private sector momentum to create a financially self-sustaining data ecosystem.

Phase II

The SunSpec Alliance team will receive $1,638,765 to establish an open, easy-to-adopt solar data exchange system. SunSpec’s oSDX system will allow free flow of data and information between commercial software products that address the solar asset lifecycle, reduce solar project soft costs, and will catalyze development of interoperable solutions at lower costs.

SunSpec will create standards for an open and royalty-free solar data exchange system that will be adopted by more than 60% of solar stakeholders in multiple market segments and in turn, lower the soft costs of a solar project to a range of 15 to 23 cents per watt.

Phase III

During the third phase, the kWh Analytics team will receive $1 million to develop Solar BabelFish, a data format translation software tool that will translate original data formats into data standards and reduce the time it takes to adopt data standards. The tool will also improve flow of information, increase transparency, and create a more competitive solar market. At the same time, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will receive $400,000 to develop tools for converting written solar records into machine-readable formats, as well as design an open source data repository that will allow users to search for relevant data more efficiently.

The Orange Button project will simplify and standardize solar data, similarly to what the Green Button project did for energy use data and what the Blue Button project did for health records, allowing state and local governments, utilities, customers, companies, and other stakeholders to exchange quality data. To learn more, visit the Department of Energy website.