DOE Launches ‘Orange Button’ Initiative To Standardize Solar Data, Cut Costs


It’s the solar industry’s turn: After so-called “button” projects helped other sectors provide better access to standardized information, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced funding to launch the Orange Button initiative. The department, which is providing nearly $4 million to four project partners, says Orange Button will increase market transparency and fair pricing by establishing data standards for the solar industry.

In order to understand the financial risk of solar energy project development, the solar energy community relies on fragmented datasets released by state energy offices and a limited number of private organizations regarding project origination, grid integration, operations and retirement, according to the DOE. These datasets vary widely in format, quality and content – which makes it difficult for potential providers to have an accurate understanding of potential markets.

The Orange Button project will work to standardize this data, making it easier to share and secure. The DOE adds that establishing such standards will reduce the cost of capital for new projects by making information about the potential performance of solar projects more readily available and easy to understand.

In fact, Aaron Smallwood – director of technology operations at the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, one of the four DOE-selected project partners – says, “We believe a reduction in the cost of capital as a result of better access to solar data will reduce risk and could result in savings of nearly $9 billion over the next 10 years to solar users.”

The DOE says the Orange Button project is part of its SunShot Initiative, and it will do for solar what the government-led Green Button and Blue Button projects did for consumer energy use data and health records, respectively.

The DOE funding awardees for Orange Button include the following:

San Francisco-based kWh Analytics will receive $1 million to develop a data format translation tool that will instantly translate individual data formats into standardized data formats, significantly reducing efforts and time required from data standards adopters.

The Golden, Colo.-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory will receive $400,000 to develop a platform that will enable data sharing across the solar marketplace in support of consensus-based data standards.

The Boston-based Smart Grid Interoperability Panel will receive $615,426 to lead a 24-month stakeholder and public engagement effort that will help drive out inefficiencies in data exchanges and thereby reduce non-hardware “soft costs” associated with solar projects.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based SunSpec Alliance will receive over $1.6 million to establish an open, commercially embraced solar data exchange system that will enable the free flow of data between commercial software products that addresses all aspects of the solar energy system lifecycle. The data exchange system will consist of uniform data taxonomy, information models, application program interfaces, a compliance test suite and reference software.

The DOE says that after the Orange Button data standards are created and launched, data producers, such as solar companies and utilities, will be able to embed a graphic showing an orange button into their app, software, or website to show data users, such as consumers or financial professionals, that a given dataset can be downloaded in the established Orange Button format.

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