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This page features answers to the most frequently asked questions about the DOE Standard Energy Efficiency Data (SEED) Platform™. Expand a topic area below to learn more:

General

What is the purpose of the SEED Platform?
The Department of Energy initiated development of the Standard Energy Efficiency Data (SEED) Platform to help public agencies that are either implementing building performance reporting regulations and/or tracking the performance of their own buildings. However, the platform functionality is highly flexible and can be useful for a range of other purposes.

How much does the SEED Platform cost?
The SEED Platform source code is free. This significantly reduces software development costs and the need for IT support of custom applications. SEED Platform user organizations only incur costs related to how the SEED Platform database application is hosted (on the user's own servers, the cloud or approved third-party hosting providers), and for any add-on applications or services they may choose to purchase from third parties.

Open Source Strategy

What is open source?
“Open source” means that the software code is publicly available so that anyone can contribute to the code base and create add-on extensions. This enables the growth of a market of providers that can offer web hosting services and add-on functionalities that can be utilized by all SEED Platform™ users. More information about open source principles can be found at the Open Source Initiative website.

What are the benefits of open-source software?
The open source approach to software development engages a community of interested users and developers in a collaborative effort in which everyone improves upon the code and shares the changes within the community. Some well-known open source projects include Linux, Mozilla, and Android. Whenever someone in the community makes an improvement, the whole community gets to benefit from the improvement. This enables the development and maintenance of a high-quality product at a lower cost to the individual users. Even though the core software is free, third parties still charge for data services or “apps” that run off the open source platform. The open source approach began as a response to some of the issues of proprietary software, which is owned and maintained by a single company. In the long run, proprietary software can be expensive to support, especially if it is modified and branched off, and proprietary software can create vendor lock-in.

The SEED Platform is being developed as open source software. As more public agency users adopt the SEED Platform and more developers engage in the community, the functionalities will grow and evolve faster than any single user or developer could achieve on their own. If a lot of entities are all using the SEED Platform code base, it will create a market opportunity for third parties to develop and offer hosting services and add-on extensions, while preventing vendor lock-in. This also creates a gravitational effect where it is worthwhile for third party developers to help keep the core SEED Platform code up to date so that they can continue to offer their add-on products. If there is a thriving community of developers and end users, everyone benefits from the upgraded codebase and is in the best interest for everyone to subscribe to the latest version of codebase versus a modified, proprietary branch.

Modifying the code
Under the SEED Platform license agreement (BSD3+1), anyone will be able to access the SEED software source code for free and modify it to suit their needs. This could include enhancements to the database structure, user interface, bug fixes, etc. Developers will have the choice whether or not to contribute their modifications back to the SEED project. Modifications that are contributed back the open source project (under the license agreement) will be available to everyone under the “SEED Platform” brand. Contributing modifications to the open source project will ensure the consistency, quality, and interoperability of the SEED Platform. It will also allow users to access improvements to the platform for free and collaborate with federal, state, local, and private entities on software development and enhancements. Modifications that are not contributed back to the project will result in a derivative product and can no longer use the SEED Platform brand, as the DOE cannot vouch for the quality or interoperability of the work. There may be reasonable situations for doing this, such as a utility program customizing the SEED Platform in a way that is very different and unique and would really only work for them.

Anyone interested in more information about becoming a SEED contributor is encouraged to contact NREL (luigi.gentile.polese@nrel.gov).

Creating add-ons
The SEED Platform open source model also allows for the growth of market providers that can offer hosting and add-on functionalities that can be utilized by all SEED Platform users. This could include things such as: advanced data cleansing and analysis modules, audit data collection templates, graphic visualizations, or mobile device apps. These add-on functionalities interact with the “core” code via the SEED Platform’s application programming interface (API). Software products that utilize the SEED Platform core code base “as‐is” and build functionalities onto the API may utilize the “SEED Platform” brand in their product name or branding. This will allow software developers to develop proprietary add-on products and build out functionalities that meet market demands, and charge a fee for these additional functionalities.

The first three add-on apps were revealed in May 2016: Excitement around the Data Surge App Showcase.

Data Management

How do I host the SEED Platform?
Once an organization decides to move forward with using the SEED Platform, they can set up their own instance on their servers or the cloud, or work with a third-party hosting provider. A list of third parties that have been approved to offer hosting and other add-on services for SEED can be found on LBNL's SEED Platform software support website.

What kinds of data can I import into my SEED Platform instance?
A public agency user can import data from the jurisdiction’s Tax Assessor office such as building lists, records from an ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager™ account, as well as data from other sources such as city planning databases, audit and retro-commissioning studies, and retrofit project reports. In the upcoming year, functionalities will be added to import data from the Commercial Building Energy Asset Score tool, Home Energy Score and Home Performance XML.

How can I manage who can see the data?
SEED functions like an Access database program. Each organization has their own copy of the database or "SEED instance." Users can also create sub-accounts for other users within their organization by using the parent and sub-organization feature. Organizations using SEED control which data they share with others. The Department of Energy and its national labs cannot access users' data without their express permission, and data contributions to the Buildings Performance Database are entirely voluntary.

Is SEED interoperable with other U.S. DOE data management tools? What other tools work with the SEED Platform?
Yes. The SEED Platform is only one part of a suite of projects that the federal government is developing to help standardize, systematize, and link data so that building owners, contractors, researchers, financiers, and other experts can aggregate and share information about building energy performance. The SEED Platform can import information from ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager accounts, datasets from other SEED instances, and the many private tools utilizing the Building Energy Data Exchange Specification (BEDES). Functionality to import data from the DOE Commercial Building Energy Asset Score tool and Home Energy Score will begin to be added in 2017.

How do state or local public agencies get the Portfolio Manager data for the privately owned buildings in their jurisdiction?
Most benchmarking ordinances require the use of ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager and also define which fields they can collect. Right now, there are two main ways for cities to get data from building owners' accounts: 1) custom reports, or 2) web services. In almost all cases cities are using the custom reporting functionality. In this case, the jurisdiction picks the fields they want to collect and saves a template in Portfolio Manager. Then when the owner is ready to submit their data, they select that custom report and the information is automatically populated and shared with the jurisdiction. The jurisdiction exports a .csv file of all the reports from Portfolio Manager and imports it into the SEED Platform. The web services connection between Portfolio Manager and SEED will enable automatic data transfer between the city's Portfolio Manager account and SEED Platform. Once the data is in the SEED Platform, it can be combined with tax assessor data or audit data, and users can do compliance checks and analytical work. For more information about Portfolio Manager custom reports and other ways to share data, see the Energy Star Portfolio Manager Custom Reporting Guide and the Energy Star Portfolio Manager Share and Request Data page.

Can you export data from the SEED Platform to Portfolio Manager?
Not currently. The web services connection can potentially enable sharing of data in both directions between the SEED Platform and Portfolio Manager, although currently only the export of data from Portfolio Manager into the SEED Platform has been fully implemented. We are prioritizing new development based on current users' needs.

Does the SEED Platform have Green Button connectivity?
Not currently. Green Button connectivity may be implemented in the future, based on current user needs and the development roadmap.

Is it possible to compare my data in SEED to other benchmarked cities?
With the current open source distribution of the SEED Platform, each public agency or other user organization only has access to their own data. If there is enough demand for the capability to compare results with other cities, the SEED Platform project may add it in the future. In the meantime, it is possible that a SEED hosting provider might offer some kind of additional functionality to see comparisons from other users.

In addition, the Buildings Performance Database (BPD) is the largest publicly available dataset of anonymized information about real buildings and their physical and operational characteristics. Several cities have contributed their disclosure data to that database. The BPD allows users to compare any group of buildings to any another group of buildings. Users can compare office buildings in one city to office buildings in another city, and look at not only energy consumption, but also Portfolio Manager score or the difference in HVAC systems. Anyone who uses the SEED Platform is encouraged to voluntarily contribute their data to BPD, to help build a national dataset that can be used by the public.

Can I contribute the data from my SEED instance into the Building Performance Database?
Yes. SEED Platform user organizations are encouraged to voluntarily contribute their data to the Building Performance Database. If you have data to contribute, please contact buildingsperformancedatabase@ee.doe.gov.

Do building owners directly enter their building data?
Although the SEED Platform does not have an interface for building owners to directly enter data, any public agency or other user organization could build a data entry interface and connect it to SEED. Each SEED Platform user organization selects which data files they want to import into SEED. Usually this data comes from other tools and databases such as ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager or tax assessor’s office records. These could be provided by building owners or utilities, or might already be in-house.

Will the SEED Platform encompass all buildings including single family residential?
Yes. Each record in the database is a “premises” which can be a single family home, commercial or multifamily building, campus or even a tenant space, as determined by the user. The SEED Platform uses the Building Energy Data Exchange Specification, which can be found here.

Database and Analysis Information

How does the SEED Platform ensure the data from multiple sources is consistent?
SEED simplifies and automates the process of merging data from multiple sources by looking at multiple fields including a unique Building ID, address and name, ignoring differences in formatting, and displaying likely matches to the user. The SEED Platform allows users to recognize and reconcile duplicative data records. In cases where there is conflicting information for the same field, the user can select which data source is more accurate and should be used as the “master” source. All of the information from the other sources is still stored in the database.

Can the SEED Platform be tied to a GIS?
Yes, users can link SEED to any other tool using the Application Programming Interface (API) capability.

Can I export my data?
Yes, a user can share selected data, in a standard (BEDES) format, via export to .csv or.xls, or using the Application Programming Interface (API) to connect with other software tools, public-facing dashboards, researchers, consultants, and others.

Does the SEED Platform include analytical and statistical tools or reports?
The SEED Platform provides support for basic data cleansing. In addition, one of the strategies of the SEED Platform project is to provide core data management capabilities, accessible through an Application Programming Interface (API), as a foundation for third parties to develop and offer many kinds of analysis and reporting functionalities.

Future SEED Development and Maintenance

Who will maintain and manage the SEED Platform?
DOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will continue to support the development and maintenance of the SEED Platform's core functionalities such as data management (importing, mapping, cleaning, editing, etc.), integration with federal government tools, basic reporting/exporting, and expansion of the API capabilities for the foreseeable future.

Are there plans to build an interface that will directly export SEED Platform data to the Building Performance Database?
Yes, in the future the SEED team also plans to build an interface to directly export SEED Platform data to the Building Performance Database (BPD). But contributing data from SEED to the BPD will be entirely voluntary.

Data Privacy and Security

How does the SEED Platform handle data privacy?
DOE, LBNL and NREL maintain confidentiality of all data submitted to it by SEED Platform users. To protect against FOIA, users requesting an account are encouraged to indicate that the data will be confidential and proprietary. A nondisclosure agreement will be made available upon request. Users entering into agreements with third-party hosting providers are encouraged to develop appropriate guidelines for the third party's use of their data.

There is some sensitivity with using third-party hosting providers if the vendor might mine the data. Is there anything going on to address this issue?
It is up to each user to determine how you host your data. If you choose to self-host, then there is no third-party issue. If you are using a third-party hosting provider, it will be important to understand their data privacy provisions and how they intend to use the data that you upload into the system. It is the responsibility of the SEED Platform user to understand the services that they are contracting with a third-party provider.

Was your question not answered?

You can submit questions, or suggest ideas for capabilities that you would like to see, by contacting LBNL (seed-support@lists.lbl.gov) or add it to the SEED-Platform-Users forum.