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Spotlight: District of Columbia

An Early Adopter of Green Button and Interval Data

By using a data-driven approach to utility services through the adoption of Green Button and interval data, building performance management, and ongoing optimization of energy supply contracts, the District of Columbia realized approximately $4 million in savings on its aggregate portfolio electricity costs from Fiscal Year 2012 to 2014. Using interval data as an essential tool, targeted buildings achieved a cumulative energy savings of 20% without extensive retrofits.


Goal: To achieve a 20% cumulative energy reduction across the District's building portfolio by 2020, or as soon as feasible.

Barrier: Limited or no access to detailed data (e.g., time resolution of data, operating details, asset characteristics, and so on) to perform comprehensive data analysis.

Solution: Negotiated with local utilities to receive interval data feeds, and with support from service providers, developed in-house capacity and information technology (IT) systems to collect, interpret, and publicly display the interval meter data.

Outcome: Realized approximately $4 million in savings on its aggregate portfolio electricity costs from Fiscal Year 2012 to 2014 and targeted buildings achieved a cumulative energy savings of 20% without extensive retrofits.


The District of Columbia is the nation's 20th-largest incorporated place with just over 700,000 residents[1] and a portfolio of more than 300 buildings and 20 million square feet. By setting aggressive energy reduction goals and adopting innovative policies, technologies, and data management solutions, the District of Columbia is leading by example to achieve greater energy efficiency. In 2008, the District enacted the Clean and Affordable Energy Act that requires that all government buildings over 10,000 square feet disclose their annual energy and water consumption. The energy tracking efforts include buildings representing more than 25 million square feet. Building on this policy, the District aims to achieve 20% energy savings by 2020 from a 2012 baseline year as part of its commitment to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Better Buildings® Challenge.

Implementation Strategy

Developing the Information Technology Capability to Receive and Interpret Interval Data

In 2012, led by a proactive energy and sustainability team, the District of Columbia Department of General Services (DGS) began an intensive collaboration with PEPCO, Washington Gas Energy Services, and a local technology consulting firm, New City Energy, to develop custom IT solutions for receipt of interval electricity consumption data directly from its utilities.

As part of smart meter promotion programs across the country, PEPCO deployed smart meters across much of the District, a move that was partially funded by a DOE Smart Grid Investment Grant to PEPCO and other utilities as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Smart meters collect 15-minute interval electricity consumption readings via an extensive mesh network of secure signal relays, which feed back into a central data collection server at PEPCO; however, PEPCO did not disseminate the collected data to customers. Knowing the value of the data, DGS successfully negotiated with PEPCO to provide a customized data feed in the Green Button Data format, sent via a secure file transfer protocol (SFTP). Under this arrangement, New City Energy received and parsed the feed for DGS, generated dashboards, and relayed graphics in a public-facing portfolio co-designed by DGS and provided by Honest Buildings. As a result, the District was the first major U.S. municipality to receive smart meter data directly from local utilities and the first municipality to publicly post data on the daily energy performance of its buildings.

Prior to 2012, PEPCO used a data feed that was substandard. In 2012, PEPCO and DGS adopted the Green Button Data format provided through the Connect My Data interface, which allowed data queries using a simple application programming interface (API). PEPCO's market transformation team recognized this as an opportunity to identify itself as the first utility in the country to provide data using this system.

Green Button Connect My Data, supported by a well-documented API, simplifies data access for customers because it allows customers to use a third party to receive and analyze data on their behalf. It also creates a competitive market for services and software that use the data. By opening up the data using a national standard, both the utilities and customers benefit. Many vendors are using interval data to identify operational inefficiencies and opportunities for energy reduction measures.

Knowing the value of bringing Green Button to the whole utility service area, DGS reconvened a team to implement Green Button Connect My Data. Working under DGS leadership, New City Energy coordinated with PEPCO technology leaders, Schneider Electric, and the Green Button leadership team at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to meet the full specifications of Green Button Connect My Data and replace the original PEPCO SFTP feed. PEPCO is now able to deliver the service to all of its commercial customers. In addition, Schneider Electric prepared to provide the same services to many of its other utility customers that use data management platforms similar to PEPCO.

As a result of this two-stage collaboration, thousands of data points are delivered daily to DGS, supporting constant monitoring and analytics on more than 300 buildings in the District's portfolio.

Leveraging Interval Data to Realize Energy and Cost Savings

DGS has subsequently engaged multiple local and national vendors to analyze the interval data and use it to inform a number of energy reduction initiatives. The District's strategies for making use of the data are listed below.

Building Performance Improvement
  • Use virtual audits to analyze interval energy use profiles to provide a preliminary indication of energy-saving opportunities
  • Across a sample set of 25 of the largest and least efficient buildings, virtual audits pointed to the need for controls and scheduling upgrades (61% of the opportunity), lighting retrofits (22%), and a set of plug-load reduction and miscellaneous conservation measures (17%)
  • Field teams are responsible for implementing these measures
Behavioral Change Programs
  • Behavioral change campaigns at K-12 schools engaged students, teachers, principals, and others to reduce energy use
  • Performance dashboards are updated daily that support lessons in energy savings and feed social media announcements
  • DGS convened and coordinated a network of local building performance experts to serve as mentors for each enrolled K-12 school
  • 80% of K-12 schools showed positive performance against a weather normalized baseline and the winning school reduced consumption 30%
Facility Staff Training
  • Trained staff to use low-cost operations and maintenance practices that deliver savings, including controls, scheduling, and lighting measures
  • Provided a common point of reference for tracking performance with interval data and benchmarking, allowing rewards for top performers and giving extra attention to more challenging sites
Transparency in Government
  • Posted daily energy-use profiles based on the interval data in easy-to-read graphical format on a public-facing website
  • Provided public access to the data, which supports internal inter-agency conversations about budgeting and operations planning
  • Empowered agency workers to see and act on improvements to their own facility performance
  • Welcomed external pressure via media attention to under-performing sites as constructive criticism

Building Performance Improvements: Virtual Audits Lead to Retro-Commissioning

Virtual audits from the vendor First Fuel provided granular analysis of energy data from buildings without the need to set foot in every building. Based on the findings across all buildings profiled, the greatest needs identified were for controls and scheduling upgrades and lighting retrofits. DGS and New City Energy developed specialized field teams to perform retro-commissioning and targeted submetering and, where possible, to open up the data flows from building automation systems.

These data-focused programs, guided by the interval data profiles, provided over 500 times the volume of data being delivered by PEPCO and supported extensive retuning and ongoing monitoring of HVAC systems performance. Using this data to retune buildings is a well-established best practice. For example, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has extensive training materials on using building automation system (BAS) data to retune buildings. DOE and PNNL developed the materials for both large (with a BAS) and small (without a BAS) commercial buildings.

Energy savings realized from these projects can be well over 20%, though in some cases the most important results are bringing buildings up to code for air quality or ensuring that building-wide comfort is maintained.

Behavioral Change Programs in Schools

The D.C. Green Schools Challenge—supported by DGS, U.S. Green Building Council, New City Energy, and Lucid Design Group—is an energy savings competition series. It allows students to view their school's near-real-time energy usage through a web-based dashboard. First launched in February 2014, the competition targeted 28 public schools and demonstrated that students working with their schools could reduce energy use by as much as 30% in a span of just 3 weeks. Financial rewards were provided to the best-performing schools that achieved the highest site-level savings. In addition, a second category of the challenge motivated students and science teachers to work together with outside mentors to develop proposals for capital equipment upgrades that would save energy. The best project was subsequently funded and is currently being implemented.

The next iteration of the competition ran in December 2014. It included a component to test which school could achieve the highest decrease in energy use over the winter holiday break.

Facility Staff Training

DGS relies on teams of facilities managers, building engineers, custodians, and supporting maintenance and mechanical teams to keep facilities running efficiently. The primary objective of these teams is to ensure that facilities are safe and comfortable for occupants. Energy efficiency initiatives are only feasible to the extent that they can be achieved without impacting these essential goals.

As a result, DGS and supporting teams are making gradual refinements to schedules and zones, providing training in the use of BAS, and working to create programs that can deliver rewards for sites that are able to achieve high-performance scheduling. Development of the appropriate policies for set points and scheduling, in conjunction with protocols for making schedule changes or temporary overrides, is as important as providing the right hardware and software.

Data flows are critical to tracking these programs; specifically, the interval data from PEPCO and the supporting public dashboards provided by the District are essential for monitoring the energy use of sites in relation to occupancy.

Transparency in Government

Utility interval data, ENERGY STAR® benchmarking data, and other key performance indicators generated by DGS are all displayed on a public-facing website. Not every building was a star performer, but by making the data openly available, DGS was driving improvement across its portfolio and setting an example for other public facilities. Facilities managers used the dashboards to discuss scheduling with occupants and engineers. Agency operations and finance teams used the dashboards to understand the potential budget impacts of adjusting operations plans.

The public website also provided accountability of another kind. When working with controls and mechanical vendors, DGS prioritized underperforming sites and could detect whether service contracts or systems improvements were meeting the expected performance level. By showing when buildings were running at peak levels and when they were not and when equipment was running smoothly or erratically, DGS was able to create beneficial conversations with all of the stakeholders that used or provided services to public buildings.


By using a data-driven approach to utility services through the adoption of Green Button and interval data, building performance management, and ongoing optimization of energy supply contracts, the District realized approximately $4 million in savings on its aggregate portfolio electricity costs from Fiscal Year 2012 to 2014. Interval data collection and display have been key drivers of these savings.

Near-real-time energy use data are available to both staff and the public. Data are being used by the city to guide building retrofits, engage stakeholders, and train staff on operations and maintenance practices that reduce energy use and optimize building energy performance. Using interval data as an essential tool, targeted buildings achieved a cumulative energy savings of 20% without extensive retrofits. Savings are driven primarily by retuning systems and refining operations. DGS expects to scale up this approach to address 10 million square feet in the next 3 years.

Beyond cost savings, publicly available data promotes transparency and accountability across government buildings. DGS is committed to using energy consumption data to continually improve the operations and efficiency of every building managed by the District and to convey the effectiveness of energy efficiency efforts. All of these help to drive further adoption of best practices.

The District predicts that these improved energy management practices, backed up by robust tracking and analysis, could generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings at many sites. The total savings at scale may be over $10 million annually. Further extensive work is needed to reach these goals, but DGS is confident that their data-driven approach will continue to deliver results.

Key Success Factors

  • A commitment to pursuing innovative and transformative approaches to help the District reach efficiency targets
  • Co-creating and implementing the first Green Button Connect My Data offering, which relied on extensive engagement with utilities and expert consultants capable of developing novel IT solutions
  • Having in-house data management and analysis capabilities for quality control and troubleshooting
  • Forming partnerships with the local and national entrepreneurial community (PEPCO Holdings, Washington Gas Energy Services, New City Energy, Honest Buildings, Lucid Design Group, Aquicore, Threespot, Schneider Electric, USGBC, and First Fuel)
  • Willingness of local utilities to adopt the Green Button Standard and develop Green Button Connect My Data functionality with a national vendor or service provider
  • Ongoing leadership by the District's leadership (e.g., mayor, city council, and director of DGS) to advance energy and sustainability policies and encourage progress across the District.

Note: The information in this case study is based on primary research conducted in 2013. Learn more about the guide's research and development.

To learn more about streamlining access to utility data, see Step 4.