X marks the spot; UBID too
Newswise — Computerized maps and their multiple features are a marvel. They’ll get you from point A to point B. They’ll even get you to points C and D and places in between while suggesting the best neighborhood stores for coffee, pizza, and office supplies.
But they are not perfect. Not by far.
For a sophisticated subset of map users, gaps lurk below the surface. Accuracy-minded users are confused by maps showing buildings that lack precise addresses. Or maybe they show an exact address, but that address is confusingly applied to multiple buildings. Or maybe the building shows no address. Or maybe a map was created with an anomaly that is not on any other map. Even tax lots are not a reliable identifier for building locations.
To clear up this confusion, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have developed software that uses geographic data to create an open-source grid reference system, providing an accurate method for declaring a location for structures. Ultimately, the Department of Energy (DOE) expects this free system, called the Unique Building Identifier (UBID), to allow programs to better track and reduce energy use and emissions. buildings.
“We want to decarbonize our buildings nationwide by making them more energy efficient,” said Harry Bergmann, chief technology officer at the DOE Building Technologies Office. “To do that, the first thing we need to understand is exactly what buildings we’re talking about and what energy-consuming assets they contain. This is an important first step in knowing how to reduce the energy consumption and emissions of these buildings.
It is not a mapping program. Instead, the creators of UBID allowed the software to speak a common language for declaring where a structure is, using code that maps to longitude and latitude coordinates. These coordinates create a rectangle representing the footprint and location of a structure. UBID data can be used in conjunction with cards.
The data can be understood by a utility provider, building owner, building manager or other users for whom accurate building data is essential. For example, cities are increasingly requiring buildings to comply with energy and emissions policy or laws. For these laws to be effective, allowing comparison from building to building, accurate location data is essential. UBID can reliably provide this.
Codes, not addresses, for the property
For a building, parcel of land, or other two-dimensional footprint, UBID assigns a string of letter and number codes based on an open-source grid reference system. UBID uses this system to locate the center of mass of a shape, such as a building, and then uses the center to calculate the north, east, south, and west sides. Code strings reflect these limitations and can be read and written by UBID users.
UBID is fast. It can create identifiers and detect duplicate records in 5-10 minutes for a typical dataset of around 1 million records. And UBID is free. The developers of PNNL have decided to make the software open-source and available for the widest possible distribution.
UBID’s simple, uniform format can serve purposes beyond precise geospatial location, said PNNL computer scientist Mark Borkum.
“A city can assign UBIDs to its building stock and also assign those UBIDs to its energy benchmarking data,” said Borkum, who has worked on UBID development for more than three years. “Now they can cross-reference all that data more easily and accurately and have access to energy consumption data.”
Contribute to reducing the carbon footprint
The potential benefits of UBID for energy data collection and analysis are among the software’s greatest attributes, Borkum said.
“Policymakers around the world have said that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be a critical part of tackling climate change,” Borkum said. “Energy consumption in buildings, as well as the systems that create that energy, will need to be tracked as part of this initiative. Accurate building location data will be essential for comparisons and management. UBID will provide this data.
Energy tracking programs include the DOE’s audit model — developed at PNNL — and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR portfolio manager, said Sarah Newman, data scientist at PNNL. . The audit model can work with UBID to support asset tracking and construction audits. Portfolio Manager adds another option to collect energy usage information for sharing and analysis by energy managers and others. Additionally, most cities that have energy benchmarking programs in place use Portfolio Manager as a compliance tool.
UBID’s compatibility with energy tracking programs is a big plus, said Newman, the team leader of the Analytics and Tools team in PNNL’s Buildings and Connected Systems group. “This will help cities trying to implement energy benchmarking programs for their community’s building inventory,” she said.
Attracting cities, nonprofits and businesses
Several local governments have leveraged the free and open-source UBID, including Washington, DC; Miami-Dade County; and Portland, Maine.
UBID is also attractive to commercial and nonprofit businesses, Newman said. For example, LightBox, a data company known for its real estate analytics, participated in the UBID Project Accelerator as a precursor and tester of the methodology.
“Because we have national collections of parcel boundaries and building footprints, we are a natural partner for UBID,” said Zach Wade, vice president of data at LightBox. “Our borders are needed to calculate UBIDs at scale across the country, and we’ve already done this across our entire building footprint database. We support open standards to address real estate data connectivity issues, hence our close collaboration with PNNL on this initiative.
LightBox supports the Public and Affordable Housing Research Society and the National Low Income Housing Coalition. LightBox assigns a UBID to federally funded rental properties in the National Housing Preservation Database. The database of 80,000 properties, maintained by non-profit organizations, helps communities preserve their public and affordable housing stock.
“Assigning UBID to affordable housing in the NHPD could help researchers combine them with other administrative data sources and better understand their proximity to disaster risk, public transit options, or other community amenities,” said Kelly McElwain, senior researcher for the Public and Affordable Housing Research Society. analyst.
Borkum and Newman brought together LightBox and the housing nonprofits in November 2020. They are working with Wade to assign UBIDs to the National Housing Preservation Database data set.
Free for the general public, in four programming languages
Early in the development of UBID, Borkum said, software developers PNNL decided to make UBID free on the open-source platform GitHub. This way, there would be the greatest possible use of the program. In addition to this, to date UBID has been implemented in four programming languages to further improve its reach and adoption, with further implementations planned for other programming languages.
“Our goal is for UBID to reach the greatest number of users in the greatest geographic spectrum to have the greatest clarity for the location and use of buildings,” Borkum said. “In the not too distant future, UBID will play an important role in managing the energy efficiency of buildings.”
The open-source version of UBID is available on this GitHub site.