The Public Utility Data Liberation (PUDL) Project adds Clean Energy Standards with DSIRE

Electric utilities report a major amount of information to the United States government and other public agencies, including yearly, monthly and even hourly data about fuel burned, electricity generated, operating expenses, power plant usage patterns and emissions. While much of this data is freely available to download from various sources, it is typically distributed in various formats that make it difficult to combine and work with. A new collaborative project, however, aspires to minimize these duplicated efforts and enable the creation of lasting, cumulative datasets that are not only publicly available, but publicly usable.

Staff at the NC Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) at NC State University are working with the researchers and analysts behind the Public Utility Data Liberation (PUDL) project to process and integrate data from the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) into the project’s dataset for “Machine Readable Clean Energy Standards.” The goal is to compile a programmatically usable database of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and Clean Energy Standards (CES) policies for quick and easy reference by researchers.

The PUDL project, which is coordinated by Catalyst Cooperative, focuses on creating an energy utility data product that can serve a wide range of users, by cleaning, standardizing, and cross-linking utility data from different sources in a single database. PUDL takes the original spreadsheets, CSV files, and databases and turns them into a unified resource. This enables users to spend more time on novel analysis and less time on data preparation. 

“Since PUDL is available under liberal open data and open source licenses, it allows a broader variety of stakeholders to quantitatively participate in electricity regulation and policy discussions,” said Brian Lips, Senior Energy Policy Project Manager for the NCCETC. PUDL project users include researchers, data journalists, grassroots renewable energy activists, climate change activists, small renewable energy and demand side management companies, and non-profit organizations. 

Lips serves as manager of the DSIRE project, a publicly available resource on federal, state and utility policies and incentives for renewable energy, efficiency, energy storage, and electric vehicles operated by the Energy Policy Team at NCCETC. DSIRE is the most comprehensive source of information on clean energy related policies and incentives in the United States with summaries of more than 2,600 incentives and policies, including renewable and clean energy standards in 38 states and the District of Columbia. 

RPS and CES have emerged as one of the primary policy tools to decarbonize the US electricity supply, but they vary from state to state. “RPS policies require utilities to produce or procure renewable energy or renewable energy credits to account for a certain percentage of their retail electricity sales – or a certain amount of generating capacity – according to a specified schedule,” Lips explained.

For researchers modeling future electricity systems, RPS and CES regulations must be included as constraints on their models to ensure that the systems they explore are legally compliant. Unfortunately, these regulations vary state by state and can also include carve outs for different types of generation as well as different requirements for different types of utilities or distributed resources. 

State RPS and CES policies vary widely on several elements including RPS targets, the entities they include, the resources eligible to meet requirements and cost caps. The eligible resources are dependent on the state’s policy but often include wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and some hydroelectric facilities- depending on the size and vintage. Some states also establish carve-outs within their RPSs for specific energy technologies, such as offshore wind or rooftop solar, to promote a diversified resource mix and encourage deployment of certain technologies. At least 21 states and Washington, D.C., have credit multipliers, carve-outs, or both for certain energy technologies in their RPS policies according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Lips and other policy experts at NCCETC are compiling granular renewable portfolio standard data from DSIRE for the PUDL team, compiling all of these RPS and CES policies in the US into one database for energy modelers to reference. This makes the data accessible and easy to work with for organizations and individuals that might not otherwise be able to afford access to this data from commercial sources and who may not have the time or expertise to do all the data processing themselves from scratch.

For more information on PUDL, how to use it and what processing has been done to the data sets, see the PUDL documentation page or the PUDL github repository.