• Energy Storage
  • Distributed Energy Resources
  • Digitization

Data Access Challenges Hold Back the Continued Growth of Distributed Energy

Alex Eller
Feb 04, 2019

Electrical Substation

The move toward increasing decentralization and digitization of electricity grids as part of the energy transition is highlighting the importance of granular data on customer energy usage. Distributed energy resources (DER) including both generation and storage systems are a core part of the energy transition. Detailed data on energy usage patterns and costs allows project developers to quickly evaluate potential projects. Data has been referred to as “the oil of the digital era,” and this is perhaps truer for DER than any other technology. 

Navigant Research has encapsulated the energy system’s transition toward decentralization and digitization in the concept of the Energy Cloud. The availability of data is a crucial piece of the Energy Cloud transition. As shown in the figure below, electricity, capital, and data all flow in many directions and to many stakeholders in the Energy Cloud. However, the ability to capture value from these new opportunities is being held back by a lack of access to energy usage data. 

Changes in Value Flows in the Energy Cloud: Electricity (e-), Capital ($), and Data (0/1)

Changes in Value Flows in the Energy Cloud

Source: Navigant Research

The Importance of Data

Energy usage data is key to evaluating the viability of a DER project, and this is especially true for energy storage projects. Energy storage projects require active, real-time management of building load patterns, rate structures, and grid service opportunities to be economical. Having access to granular data at the vendor level lowers costs to acquire new customers and allows project evaluation and design to be done remotely with greater efficiency. Once a project is operational, control software utilizes performance data to continually optimize for maximum savings and revenue generation for customers. Data informs operational algorithms within smart contracts of the optimum time to store excess generation, sell it to the grid, participate in demand response programs, charge/discharge batteries, etc.

Having data on a customer’s energy usage at the interval level is the first step in developing and optimizing projects. Companies that already have existing building energy expertise and/or access to customer energy data may be at an advantage. These include existing building energy management system suppliers, demand response providers, and utilities. 

Challenges with Data Access

Despite the progress utilities have made deploying advanced metering infrastructure and digital smart meters, many customers and DER providers face significant challenges gaining access to data on energy usage and grid conditions. Most of the data gathered from these meters resides only with the utility and is rarely shared due to concerns around privacy and effective data management. Efforts are being made to improve customers’ access to this data. Perhaps most notable, the Green Button initiative works with utilities to give customers easy access to their usage data for their own analysis or to share with third-party service providers. 

Other data access efforts involve allowing DER providers to understand current grid conditions and where new projects can be built without lengthy interconnection processes or grid upgrades. Utilities in California are pioneering these efforts with publicly available maps that identify where new DER projects can export energy to the grid, or where there cannot be exporting and solutions such as combined solar plus storage for onsite consumption may be required.   


Companies that will be most successful in the growing DER industry may be those that are best able to leverage access to data to lower customer acquisition costs and continually improve the design and operation of their solutions. Leveraging customer-related data can allow companies to better segment their customer base and target specific groups with tailored marketing campaigns at a lower cost. Companies that don’t have access to energy data for their targeted customers must acquire it through partnerships with either local building energy system providers or utilities.