From the Desk of Steve Colton
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Everything You Wanted to Know (about Energy Prices)
In this past week, Iíve started working on the 2008 Home Energy Affordability Gap analysis which will be issued by Fisher Sheehan & Colton next spring. A major part of this front end effort is to find the retail price of different energy sources and different end uses on the web. Iím not starting from scratch. This wil be the 6th Home Energy Affordability Gap Iíve helped with. So, I pretty much know where to go on the web to find what I need. But as I collected all of this data, I was once again struck by the vastness of the information available on the internet. So, I thought Iíd share what I download for the Home Energy Affordability Gap just to give you a taste of the data thatís available if you search it out.

As I said, at this point in the analysis, I am after retail energy prices. The focus is on four different energy sources: natural gas, electricity, propane (LPG) and fuel oil/kerosene. Since the analysis is at the consumer (i.e. retail) level, I donít worry about what fuels are used to generate electricity. Iím also interested in different end uses for the energy: heating, cooling, and other non-heating uses. I use different months of the year to characterize the different end uses. So, a February price for electricity would represent electricity used for heating, while an August price would represent electricity used for cooling.

So, four energy sources, three end uses and fifty states (51 with DC). Iím looking for roughly 600 data points. Where do I go? The federal governmentís Energy Information Administration, of course. Official Energy Statistics from the U.S. Government.

Itís not that easy, of course. Different parts of the EIA publish statistics on different energy sources. So I start by looking for natural gas prices on the website of the EIAís Natural Gas Monthly (http://www.eia.doe.gov/oil_gas/natural_gas/data_publications/natural_gas_monthly/ngm.html). When you go to this website, you find that the NGM publishes 20 odd tables of data every month about natural gas. Production, consumption, imports, storage... cubic feet of natural gas and prices... by state, by region, in total... Everything you wanted to know about natural gas in this country. I download ONE table and use ONE column of the data presented.

The same scenario plays out for electricity and the two petroleum-based energy sources. The websites are:

    • Electric Power Monthly at http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/epm_sum.html, and
    • Petroleum Marketing Monthly at http://www.eia.doe.gov/oil_gas/petroleum/data_publications/petroleum_marketing_monthly/pmm_historical.html

And again, I download ONE table for each energy source from the multitude presented and I use ONE column of data in each table. I hope youíre getting a feel for the amount of information thatís available on this one narrow topic. Multiply that by thousands of narrow topics and you have the internet.

(NOTE: Another characteristic of the internet is that it is very dynamic. These links were current today, but the EIA changes its websites frequently. So, if one of these links is broken when you read this, just keep digging. The information is there.)

I’m not going to walk through it in detail, but I want to leave you thinking about the data that’s available from the US Census. To build the Home Energy Affordability Gap models, I downloaded buckets and buckets of data from the US Census... Information as narrow as "how many households of renters use each of my four targeted energy sources for heating, by COUNTY, across the country." Wow. Go to http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/DatasetMainPageServlet?_program=DEC&_lang=en. Donít be intimidated by all the jargon. Select Summary FIle 3 (SF3) and click on Detailed Tables in the popup menu. And be amazed at the information available and the flexibility the Census site offers for slicing and dicing it.

steve colton
October 21st, 2008