Energy data and historical info: Why it is essential for accurate energy cost management

Feb 28

Historical energy data: access

Every sound analysis of energy usage and cost begins with the harrowing and hair raising experience of accessing historical energy data for gas and electricity. Getting historical usage and cost data from utilities in an efficient way is extremely difficult. Ask anyone on the front lines of this activity, whether they are in the Facilities or Accounting Departments or in the business of providing services to large commercial and industrial clients. Just getting account information is incredibly difficult.

If a large client has multiple accounts, the challenges go up exponentially. Why? Because it tends to be a manual process that requires repeated effort and manual intervention. Most customers prefer to just hand type usage and cost data, rather than trying to use the Internet to manage the process. Sometimes, the information that a customer needs for analysis only appears on the printed invoice.

What is the state-of-the-art of energy data management?

Most customers settle for manual data management and spreadsheets.

Energy data is essential to proper planning.

Don’t settle for paper bills. Get electronic access to your data.

The Federal Government attempted to tackle the utility data access problem in 2012 after the White House called on utilities to follow the lead of the health care industry to provide better data access to customers. Utilities across the country implemented something called Green Button Data. It is a one-click process for accessing utility data in html format. It is available on most utility websites and through an organization that manages the program.

Pros of Green Button: It has made it much easier to get utility data. No question about it.

Cons of Green Button: If you have multiple accounts, which most large customers do, you still have to manually navigate and manipulate green button data.

While the Green Button is helpful, it has not solved all of our utility data problems. And so, as a result, many of you have given up—and continue to manually type account information in to your accounting systems and in to spreadsheets.

The problem with this approach is that the data are not available to others in your organization for planning and management purposes. This gold mine of information, which starts with historical usage and cost information, is silo-ed in Accounting. Who has time to manage it any other way? Once the data are in Accounting, it is left there with no way to share it for other purposes across the organization.

Why is it important to access historical energy data?

Energy data, which usually consists of historical usage and costs, is essential to proper planning. In addition, if you don’t have a shared repository of information on energy cost and usage, then the result is that you have internal conflicts and varying version of the truth. Management spends a lot of time trying to understand “why” actual cost and usage aren’t what they expected. The run around between Accounting, Finance, Facilities and Energy Management begins. And it never ends.

Without understanding where you’ve been, you can’t know where you’re going. It is a cliché, but it is the truth.

Actually, we prefer the Yogi Berra version:

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

This adage is true with energy planning as well. So here’s our advice:

  • Don’t settle for paper bills.
  • Get easy electronic access to your historical usage cost and data. We have spent decades and thousands of person hours on this problem. We have it managed. There are other companies out there as well who seem to be addressing this problem.
  • Use that data to get a forecast of energy cost and usage out in to the future, so you don’t end up someplace else.
  • Track and manage how you’re doing along the way.

Bottom line for energy and finance managers: Access to energy data is essential to effectively managing your energy costs and usage. Call us if you’d like advice on how to best manage the data access process. We’ve seen it all.

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