https://data.blog.gov.uk/2015/03/11/using-open-data-to-really-save-on-energy-bills/

Using Open Data to really save on energy bills

The media has been consistently full of stories in recent months and years focussed on the fluctuating price of energy – whether it be diesel for our haulage industry or gas and electricity for our homes, the cost of these resources is a major concern.

With oil prices falling rapidly in the past 6 months from around US$110 per barrel in July 2014 to around US$50 in January 2014 there is more focus than ever on energy prices.

For domestic users of energy, there are a myriad of services that offer comparisons of tariffs from the large and small suppliers as well as a growing number of group buying initiatives that offer their members unique discounts. These are good ways of saving on bills. However, consumers could benefit from even greater savings through the provision of some simple open data.

The Energy Performance Certificate

Introduced as part of the abandoned Home Information Packs, the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is a measure of the efficiency of a domestic property. An assessor will create an EPC for a new property and also when an existing property is marketed for sale. They will look at a number of factors which can influence the CO2 emissions and heat loss to give a score and ultimately, an energy performance band (from A to G).

On top of this, the certificate suggests ways in which the efficiency can be improved and the influence this could have on the energy costs for that property. For example, fitting solar cells or double glazing.

Certificates are published by Estate Agents marketing a property and should be given to the owner of the property on sale completion as well as to any tenants looking to rent the property.

So what’s the problem?

Simply put, not every property in the UK has been built or sold since the introduction of EPC’s. Therefore, not every owner or resident will know how efficient their property is today and how much money they could save on their energy bills if they made improvements.

Existing EPCs are available from a central location but this is no simple system that is understood by the vast majority of UK consumers who simply would not wish to have their own EPC done, or want to spend the fee and would not think to go and look at the EPC of a neighbour’s house to get a rough idea of their own rating.

Without easy online access to property EPC ratings consumers are not getting a full picture on their energy spend (Why is my bill so high?) and how they can bring it down (Is the Green Deal worthwhile for me?).

An Open EPC dataset?

Making the EPC certificates available as a single, national dataset could be part of the solution to help provide a wider understanding of energy use, consumption and costs. Currently, any EPC can be downloaded as a single PDF document – this approach locks the data down and prevents it from being combined with other information to create services that could help consumers access the right energy deal for them, understand if home improvements are worthwhile and even choose the right home in the first place.

Several Data Requests on data.gov.uk have asked for exactly this (both for domestic and non-domestic properties) and a recent decision from the Information Commissioner’s Office backed the release of the non-domestic EPC data.

So, if we had an Open Dataset, what could it contain? Looking at any EPC certificate makes it clear:

Property Address

Suggested Improvements

Dwelling Type

Thermal Transmittance of Walls, Roof, Floor

Total Floor Area

Glazing Type (e.g. High performance)

Current Energy Rating Band & Score

Heating Type (e.g. Gas main)

Potential Energy Rating Band & Score

Air Tightness

Current Estimated Energy Costs

Hot Water System Type (e.g. solar or mains)

Potential Estimated Energy Costs

Low Carbon Sources already provided (e.g. solar cells)

 

 

None of this data is of a sensitive, personal nature. It is all made openly available to prospective buyers when a property is sold. By combining this information with other property and location data already available in an Open format, consumers could be given access to a number of beneficial services to help them make informed choices on where to live, which energy deal to take and whether to invest in home improvements.

Local Authorities and Housing Associations could also use this data to understand the potential savings across their whole property estates and Central Government could use it (combined with other Open and Commercial data sources) to make the right decisions on investment programmes such as the Green Deal or could use it to help improve building regulations.

Benefits to Consumers

Informed choice is an crucial  benefit to consumers, especially when taking the important decision about where to live . With many savvy consumers making use of comparison tools for everything from insurance to broadband, there is a major gap in this functionality when comparing places to live. Lack of Open EPC data creates a major gap in this area. Opening up this data would create a number of benefits such as:

  • Consumers will be able to plan their budgets more easily. They will know their likely mortgage / rent, and Council Tax costs and could add energy costs to this with the help of EPC data.

  • Consumers will be able to use a range of new apps that combine Open Data (Price Paid, EPC, Crime Rates, Transport etc) and other sources to find the right area and home to live in.

  • See local changes in EPC rating over time to work out if home improvements will deliver a significant energy cost saving.

  • Open up group buying opportunities for neighbours or a whole street to improve their homes, en-masse, for a significant discount.

  • Group buying of energy tariffs suited to particular EPC bands or property types.

A number of businesses agree on these benefits:

Nick Katz, Co-founder and CEO of Splittable, an app to help young renters living in shared accommodation split and manage all their household expenses easily, fairly and transparently says: “It’s super clear, the more information made open by the government means more informed consumers and a better performing housing stock. Companies like ours can find exciting, beautiful and helpful ways to present this information back to our customers to help make their lives better, save money, and put positive pressure on the housing industry to provide homes that run better, cheaper and cleaner.”

Will Hodson from The Big Deal says: “So much important data in energy is locked away. Take meter numbers and tariff costs for example. Accessing that data costs money and costs end up with the consumer. By freeing up data, we can reduce not only bills, but also barriers to entry for new consumer champions. With  just 10% of the population switching regularly, the need for innovation is clear. At The Big Deal we believe the responsible use of data will be central to that innovation.”

Sam Gilbert, CMO of Bought By Many says: “Opening up energy performance data makes complete sense.  Already, tens of thousands of consumers are using their collective buying power to demand better prices and better products from insurance companies.  Using open energy performance data, services like Bought By Many could bring together consumers with shared home improvement needs, and negotiate on their behalf to get group discounts with suppliers.”

Benefits to the Public Sector

  • Local Authorities & Housing Associations will be able to understand the energy efficiency of their entire housing stock - opening up the ability to make decisions on upgrading versus rebuilding.

With environmental regulations likely to become ever more strict, this kind of decision on social housing is a real possibility. Without Open EPC data, it’s simply not possible.

Benefits to Businesses

Clearly, developing applications for consumers and public bodies to help them make important, life changing decisions could have a significant benefit to businesses in various sectors.

There could be many more unknown benefits from releasing this data (as there often are) which could help create new opportunities for start-ups and disruptors in the utility and energy space.

However, without releasing this data, these opportunities simply won’t exist.

James Johnston from a new entrant to the Energy market, Open Utility said:

“The power industry is renowned for being one of the most closed industries in the world. We have a vision for the future - an internet-of-energy, a digital power industry supported by open standards, open data and complete transparency. There are many challenges towards realising this goal, but fundamentally we need to focus on finding the value propositions in incrementally opening up processes and datasets. An Open EPC dataset is one of these solid steps towards realising the long-term vision.”

Benefits to the Environment

Releasing less CO2 into our atmosphere has an obvious benefit in minimising the impacts of human induced Climate Change. No one can argue this benefit.

Consumers currently lack the ability to fully understand the potential positive impact they can make. By releasing EPC data, they will gain more understanding and feel more in control of their impact on the environment.

To use another example, it wasn’t until people had home PCs and smartphones that they truly understood the benefits that the web could bring (along with risks). By putting EPC data in the hands of consumers, they will feel empowered and have more control over our global future in terms of energy use and climate change.

Conclusion

At a time when energy costs are a daily media fixture and the positive disruption being seen in other industries are simply not materialising in the Utilities market, opening up more energy efficiency data via a bulk EPC release would kick-start innovation in this and a number of related markets - benefiting consumers, government and business.

The Open Data User Group hope that this blog creates debate and encourages the release of more Open Data.