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How solar data standards became a priority at Salesforce

Charlie Isaacs, Chief Technology Officer at Salesforce, first learned about the Orange Button Initiative from a customer at Wells Fargo. The initiative is a collaborative, open-source project to streamline the exchange of solar project data, and the customer asked Isaacs if the Salesforce platform could be leveraged to allow users to collect and report solar data in a standardized business format.

“First of all, he was a customer. Of course I was going to listen to his ideas,” said Isaacs, speaking at an Orange Button software developers’ conference in April 2018. “Second, he was already jumping to the conclusion that the platform should be leveraged for that, and it should be easy to do something like that on Salesforce. My answer was not only yes, but heck yes. Let’s do it.”

All the world’s leading industries—health care, manufacturing, communications, transportation and finance—rely on Salesforce every day to help them manage customer relationships. The Fortune 500 company provides cloud-based software to more than 150,000 organizations worldwide, so having Isaacs turn up at the Orange Button conference to personally demonstrate how to share solar data using Salesforce was a significant milestone for the initiative.

Isaacs’ support for Orange Button is rooted, first, in a personal commitment to sustainability. When he graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1980, Isaacs gave a valedictorian speech urging everyone in the engineering school to consider a career in solar energy.

In addition, Salesforce also has a corporate commitment to keeping the cloud carbon neutral. The demonstration that Isaacs gave at the Orange Button Developers Conference, hosted by SunSpec Alliance, highlighted the simplicity of adding XBRL data to the Salesforce environment. XBRL is a common business reporting standard compatible with many software file formats, such as XML.

He opened a text file and made some quick modifications to match Salesforce data fields and some newly released terms in the Orange Button lexicon. In a commercial application, Salesforce would provide software tools to parse unstructured data, eliminating the need to modify text. Then Isaacs uploaded the data to his Salesforce account.

“If you are already on Salesforce, you can generate XML really easily — or JSON (another XBRL-compatible file format). If you are already on Salesforce and you want to send to another company on Salesforce, that’s a no-brainer too,” Isaacs said.

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Orange Button Initiative with four sponsors: SunSpec, the Smart Electric Power Alliance, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and kWh Analytics. Today, 350 companies and more than 1,000 individuals are supporting Orange Button as active participants, including many software companies that are also developing the ability to work with XBRL data.

At Salesforce, Isaacs has seen how quickly technology can change the status quo in business. A similar type of transformation may be coming soon to the solar industry, as project developers, investors, and asset managers drive down solar costs by simplifying and speeding up the exchange of solar data.

Matthew Hirsch runs Hirsch Media, a California-based content marketing agency for the solar industry. Learn more at hirschmedia.com.

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