This is the first of a series of three posts on utility data management. The Environmental Finance Center collects all sorts of data for projects. The EFC uses data from regulatory agencies, financial reports, and data on area residents from the US Census Bureau.
The project design questions the EFC asks are:
- Know the users! Are they:
- The public?
- What should be shown?
- Decisionmakers need reliable data on cost and benefits
- Staff may need to drill down on details
- Overall, tell a story
- What data exists to support and analyze how can different data sources be connected?
For water and wastewater rates dashboards, the EFC’s primary audience is staff of utilities and the secondary audience are utility board members and decisionmakers. The EFC shows utility rates and, importantly, the context for those rates. Multiple dials show the user the balance between factors such as operating ratio and affordability. Comparison groups let the user look at their rates in comparison with other utilities in their watershed or with utilities serving similar numbers of customers. This year, the EFC has added dials for non-revenue water and for wastewater inefficiency to the North Carolina dashboard.
Elizabeth Roknich is a fellow in the 2018 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) program. She spent summer 2018 at NC GreenPower, a Raleigh-based renewable energy nonprofit. Her work there included financial modeling, cost benefit analyses for program changes, and data visualization work in Tableau, which she used to create two dashboards to highlight their renewable energy generators and their Solar Schools program
Data visualization is a term you might have heard buzzing around lately, gaining popularity and attention across many fields. The idea behind visual representation is not new; people have been explaining data pictorially for centuries, from maps to graphs and on from there. Because of the way the human brain processes information, we are naturally able to understand data in visual formats more easily and quickly than in spreadsheets or reports.
What has really made data visualization boom, however, is the current capacity that computers have to process data at lightning speeds, and the sheer amount of data being collected at any given moment. Continue reading
Ever need to know how many single-family wood-framed houses were sold in the Midwest last year? Or the latitude and longitude of every farmers market in Wisconsin that sells herbs, flowers, and soap? What about the number of planes that sat on the tarmac more than three hours this past June? Or the annual sales volume of book stores in the United States for the past 20 years?
These might sound like crazy questions, but all of the above information is available through the federal government’s data portal www.data.gov. Data.gov houses more than 130,000 data sets that are freely available for download (and, no, that’s not a typo—more than one hundred thirty thousand data sets). These data can be invaluable resources for making smart managerial and financial decisions for our water and wastewater systems. Continue reading
In previous posts, we have talked about publicly available data on inflationary measures including the Consumer Price Index and the Construction Cost Index as well as on commercial energy use from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the US Census. The US Census also has a rich set of data on the financial position of households within our community. These data are especially relevant and helpful for determining the affordability of government utility services such as water and wastewater rates.
During the 2014 North Carolina Water and Wastewater Finance course, the Town of Cary and Sensus Inc. presented to the class on a panel entitled “Smart Technology and Water Finance.” During the panel, Karen Mills, Cary’s Finance Director, and Leila Goodwin, Cary’s Water Resources Manager, stated they have adopted advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), colloquially known as “smart meters,” for their drinking water system. This ambitious technological project has allowed the Town of Cary many benefits for their water system, a few of which include: earlier leak detection and repair, improved backflow prevention, and better monitoring of water usage during rationing / shortages, among many others.