Skip to main content

How to Democratize Access to Electrification Incentive Data

Bdc Node Collective Blog

How to Democratize Access to Electrification Incentive Data

The NODE Collective, a new nonprofit alliance, will create the most comprehensive database of incentives in the U.S., and make it available to all

by André Meurer, Head of Product

Up until the mid-19th century, railroad gauges across the United States were not standardized. The railway system was a patchwork of incompatible rail sizes that made cross-country transportation inefficient and often impossible. Freight had to be unloaded and then reloaded onto different trains at each break of gauge. This fragmentation stymied growth and limited innovation in the rail sector. Signed by President Lincoln in 1862, the Pacific Railway Act marked a crucial moment in economic history by standardizing railroad gauges. It made possible the construction of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad and revolutionized the rail industry, leading to a boom in trade, which facilitated the flow of goods and ideas, knitting the vast American landscape into a single, integrated market.

This historical anecdote is a timely lesson about the power of open standards to drive economic growth and spur innovation within an industry. Today, we face a different challenge, and not without historic parallels: decarbonizing the built environment of the United States.

Conditions today are better than ever for this enormous transformation. Recent state and local policy wins such as New York’s All-Electric Building Act have created strong momentum for building decarbonization legislation.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is bringing billions of dollars in new incentives to help consumers eliminate fossil fuels from their heating, cooking, laundry, and other appliances by switching to efficient electric technologies such as heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, induction cooktops, heat pump dryers, and modern electrical panels.

The market is also stepping up to meet that challenge. We are seeing unprecedented interest and investment from manufacturers, distributors, retailers, contractors, and installers seeking to re-orient themselves toward an electric future.

Amidst this backdrop of accelerated transformation, electrification rebates and other incentives stand out as a critical policy tool to make decarbonization affordable for consumers and profitable for market actors.

In practice, however, a fragmented incentive landscape is currently causing friction and confusion, hindering both the consumer decision-making, as well as the effectiveness of marketing and outreach efforts. Fortunately, countless organizations are actively working to overcome these barriers. From nonprofits to venture-backed startups to state energy offices, an emerging ecosystem of products, services, and programs will play a key role in the successful decarbonization of our buildings, and especially in the rollout of the IRA.

However, one big hurdle is slowing down progress in all these efforts: there is no comprehensive, standardized, and reliable source of incentive program data for the entire U.S.

That is about to change.

The NODE Collective Will Make Decarbonization Data Universally Accessible

For the past few months, the Building Decarbonization Coalition (BDC) team has been working with our partners Eli Technologies, Rewiring America, RMI, and the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, to establish a nonprofit alliance dedicated to creating the most comprehensive and reliable data repository of every residential electrification incentive in the nation.

The National Open Data for Electrification (NODE) Collective will bring together a broad coalition to establish the gold standard for tracking electrification incentives. The Collective will source, structure, and maintain this database, and it will also provide free and open access to everyone through an open data specification. Check out the press release, and sign up for the upcoming webinar.

This initiative enables any software product out there that utilizes incentive program data — be it internal or consumer-facing tools, B2B or B2C, nonprofit or for-profit, calculators, rebate finders, predictive models, e-commerce websites, reporting dashboards, and everything in between — to rely on an up-to-date source of truth for this data.

What does this all mean? To illustrate, here are two elements of the NODE Collective vision that I am especially excited about:

  • A trusted single source of truth: All end users of incentive data, including consumers, contractors, and policymakers, should be able to view consistent information, regardless of the means they are using to access it.
  • A new wave of market innovation: Currently there are dozens of organizations attempting to solve the fragmentation of incentive data by taking similar, yet unique, approaches. This enormous duplication of work across our industry stifles innovation and slows growth. And it is unnecessary; a database that is open to all can enable organizations to focus their efforts on solving other problems, like deploying more heat pumps or addressing more of their customers’ pain points.

The Fragmentation of the Incentive Data Ecosystem

In the spring of 2023, having recently joined BDC, I went on a listening tour to connect with other organizations developing consumer-facing tools for electrification. Above all, one query I heard over and over again was: How can I get a hold of incentive data?

That hardly came as a surprise, as our own team had been wrestling with a similar challenge. The Switch Is On Incentive Finder was by then already a mature tool and the most complete and trusted source of incentive program data in California. Each year, it executes nearly 500,000 incentive searches by residents seeking to maximize savings when decarbonizing their homes. And yet, we know from experience how complex and time consuming it is to maintain this database of dozens of constantly evolving programs.

There are thousands of electrification and energy efficiency incentives in the U.S., each with complex eligibility rules, frequent changes in funding levels and availability, and different application and qualification processes. Rebates from federal, state, utility, and local programs can often be combined. This “stacking” of incentives is essential for affordability, especially for customers in low-and-moderate income communities. However, because programs are administered by a mix of government, utility, and private organizations, expressing stacking programmatically can be a challenge.

This problem has been recognized as far back as 2014. The Low-Income Barriers Study commissioned by the California Legislature found that the lack of a centralized source of information and program data was a primary cause of confusion and low participation rates in the state’s low-income energy programs.

At the start of 2023, Jeff Coleman, CEO of Eli Technologies, wrote about the digital infrastructure problem with climate incentive programs, making the case for an “incentive infrastructure collaborative”:

Inserting incentives – and in many cases, multiple incentives for a single product or project – into a complex consumer electrification journey creates friction, confusion, and sometimes full-on chaos. This makes it difficult (and costly) to conduct effective marketing, education, and outreach for these programs.

There have been numerous efforts to aggregate and organize this information. Each attempt has succeeded in partially solving the problem, but all have been hindered by one or more of the following challenges:

  1. Sourcing complete data: Simply put, the data is not always easy to find. Each individual program publishes information like incentives requirements, program budgets, phasing, and detailed rules across multiple websites, and PDF documents.
  2. Structuring the data: Creating a well-structured database of incentives, and in particular expressing eligibility requirements as machine readable rules, poses a number of challenges. Many of the efforts to aggregate data end up including important information in large blocks of text, something difficult to parse, organize, and incorporate into digital solutions. While the latest advancements in AI, in particular large language models (LLMs), can be valuable in helping to encode rules from unstructured text, technology still falls short of solving this problem due to inconsistencies such as different definitions of household income across programs, or whether rebate discounts apply to labor costs or just equipment costs.
  3. Maintaining data accuracy over time: Rebates are sometimes phased out on an unpredictable schedule, since amounts are reduced as certain funding thresholds are reached. Such changes are often announced on virtual webinars and can sometimes happen at a moment’s notice. Program changes and fluctuating funding are among the top causes of confusion and distrust in these programs, especially among contractors.

Why a Collective Is Needed to Solve This Problem

The challenge of maintaining an accurate and up-to-date incentive dataset requires a broad coalition of data users, and especially of data providers coordinating at a large scale. The nature of the problem, as well as the time-sensitive imperative to accelerate decarbonization, calls for a collective approach.

Each of NODE Collective’s founding members has come to understand that this task is too big for any one organization to tackle on its own. The Switch Is On Incentive Finder, Rewiring America’s IRA Calculator, NC Clean Energy Tech Center’s DSIRE, and Eli’s digital platform are all great solutions that accomplish what they set out to do. However, none of these tools, or any other out there (that we are aware of) has been able to fully realize the vision of NODE.

It is only by getting together around a shared vision and combining knowledge and resources that we can create an alliance that is more than the sum of its parts. A collective model distributes responsibility, avoids bottlenecks, and promotes a culture of collaboration rather than competition.

This approach has been proven to work well in other areas of impact. The efficacy of collective models can be seen in many other industries. Notable examples are the California Data Collaborative (data source for CA water systems), the Green Button Alliance (secure access to energy usage data in an open format), and OpenStreetMap (open maps maintained by a community of experts).

Incentive Data Must Be a Public Good

The NODE Collective champions the idea that incentive data should be freely available to all. Ensuring open access to data is critical to guarantee that the transition to cleaner, healthier, and energy efficient homes is made possible for everyone.

Democratizing access to incentive data will empower consumers to make informed decisions and support contractors in their advisory roles, both key pillars of the broader goal of transitioning to a decarbonized future.

When first announcing the concept of NODE Collective to a group of manufacturers last November, BDC pointed out that:

Accelerating market solutions to address the climate crisis requires that incentive data becomes a public asset. Unlike proprietary data models that stifle innovation and perpetuate inefficiencies, open data serves as the bedrock upon which solutions can be rapidly prototyped, iterated, and scaled. This monumental challenge demands a decentralized yet unified strategy that transcends individual organizational agendas.

A Call to Action — Join the NODE Collective!

Establishing this alliance is just the beginning; there is a lot of work ahead. Developing innovative tools to support consumers and contractors. Creating amazing user experiences. Elevating consumer awareness. Making it simpler and more affordable to switch to electric appliances. Training and supporting an electrification workforce. And, ultimately, decarbonizing the entire building stock of the United States — and beyond!

NODE won’t solve all that. What it will do is reduce friction for everyone who is working to deliver on each of those goals by helping create the conditions where more transparency, growth and innovation can take place.

In the coming months, members of NODE have an exciting and ambitious roadmap to deliver on — collectively:

  • Develop an open data specification and documentation, and publish to a GitHub repository.
  • Combine the data held by all member organizations in that open format and make it available (it’s worth noting that NODE has already amassed the most complete incentive dataset in the U.S.)
  • Create a transparent governance model that can scale as many more organizations start contributing to the Collective.

Above all, the success of NODE depends on the active participation of all the organizations who care about incentive data being easily accessible. To that end, we are recruiting everyone who is able to provide data: program administrators, state energy offices, nonprofits, and for-profit companies.

We invite everyone to join us in taking this small, but important, step in building a decarbonized future. Get involved at