Energy Information Administration Releases Electricity API

Curtis Chen
Oct. 04 2012, 10:13AM EDT

"Where do you think it all comes from, this powerful electricity?"
- Schoolhouse Rock! (1979)

The Internet thrives on a variety of content--from cat pictures to blog posts--and a multitude of access methods, from APIs to telegrams. But none of it would exist without electricity powering all those clients, servers, and the network equipment in between. Now, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has released an API detailing how and where American electric power is generated, sold, and used.

The current, beta release of the EIA API contains "465,000 electricity data series, organized into 39,000 categories." That's a lot to sort through, but the EIA's developer web site provides an API Browser which allows you to drill down into each category tree, then displays the selected data with a sample API call and an interactive graph, which can be printed or downloaded as an image.

Data is broken out by generation, usage, and price, then further categorized by time and location--in many cases down to specific power plants in each state. You can even see what types of fuel were used in a given month, but actual plant info is more obscure--for example, where is "Pit 3?" The EIA promises "longitude and latitude information of individual electricity plants will be provided with each data series, along with standards based country and state codes...where applicable," but in the meantime, you may need to rely on the separate Interactive Electricity Data Browser to correlate plant names with actual locations.

To use the API, you'll have to register for an API key and agree to the Terms of Service, which are straightforward except for one notable omission: though the API itself includes Updates Data, so you can request only data which has changed recently, the TOS fails to specify actual API usage limits; the registration agreement only warns that "[y]our use of the API may be subject to certain limitations on access, calls, or use as set forth within this Agreement or otherwise provided by the EIA. If the EIA reasonably believes that you have attempted to exceed or circumvent these limits, your ability to use the API may be temporarily or permanently blocked."

The EIA emphasizes that its "[p]rojects published on Beta are not final and may not include up-to-date data. They are for public testing and comment only." But they want developer feedback as they "add petroleum, natural gas, international, and state estimates over the coming months," which will more than double the amount of data available.

(Hat Tip: AOL Government)

Curtis Chen Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley; now a science fiction writer and puzzle hunt maker near Portland, Oregon. You may have seen his "Cat Feeding Robot" Ignite presentation. Curtis is not an aardvark.

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