Unique Building Identifier (UBID)

Battelle Number: 31437 | N/A

Technology Overview

Today, thousands of sensors and systems gather millions of bits of data about the built world—from energy and water use in buildings to waste generated by cities. Harnessing this data could lower energy consumption, promote healthy and sustainable buildings, and better manage real estate to improve efficiency and resiliency. Unfortunately, street addresses are ambiguous and error-prone, latitude and longitude coordinates may not lie within the property boundary, shape files may be out-of-date or inaccurate, and surrogate keys may be local to cities, states, and/or political entities. Without accurate location information, building owners, utilities, cities, energy service companies, and decision-makers cannot easily match data to the right building, uniquely identify a location, and share and combine data records from different sources, making it difficult to identify opportunities to save energy or advance smart city technologies.

Unique Building Identification (UBID), developed by researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is a natural key that matches buildings and other two-dimensional spatial data between databases to facilitate matching across datasets. UBID converts a two-dimensional footprint, such as a building or land parcel, into a unique, alphanumeric code string based on an open-source grid reference system. UBID uses Open Location Code by Google Zürich to identify the location of the center of mass of a shape, also known as the centroid of the footprint, followed by the north, east, south, and west extents. These strings are easy for people to read and write, so they can be used both online and offline. The identifier is designed to be easily overlaid on publicly available, web-based mapping platforms and enables fast and accurate spatial matching with minimal computational resources. For a typical dataset of approximately 1 million records, UBID can automatically create identifiers and detect any duplicate records in 5 to 10 minutes using no more than a laptop computer, a feat never before possible at this scale and prohibitively time-consuming manually.

UBID is available in the following programming languages: Microsoft C# .NET, JavaScript Python, and Ruby. All require minimal computational resources. The identifiers are straightforward to implement, and a central authority or Internet connection is not required to encode or decode a UBID identifier. Because UBID is open-source software, it is easy for any organization to implement, particularly civic and nonprofit organizations, which might otherwise be hindered by cost considerations. The software runs on any operating system—including Windows, macOS, and Linux—on desktop computers, laptop computers, and mobile devices, allowing it to be used in an office, on the web, or in the field. 


Using PNNL’s UBID, states, cities, and private companies can jointly track building information for multiple government functions like law enforcement and emergency medical services, which can then react much faster in time-critical situations. Commercial real estate managers can leverage various data sources to evaluate and manage their building assets more quickly and accurately. Utilities can link meter data to building data to better understand where and how energy is being used or generated.


  • Open source and free to use
  • Unique key for the location and extent of two-dimensional footprints
  • 99.8+/-% accuracy compared to GIS
  • Cross references data among difference sources and data sets
  • Human readable and writeable
  • Minimal computational power required
  • No central authority or internet connection required to encode and decode
  • Available in the following programming languages: Microsoft C# .NET, JavaScript Python, and Ruby
  • Runs on any operating system

State of Development

Open-source copyrights asserted


Available for licensing in all fields


Data aggregation, energy efficiency, buildings, locator, location identifier, open-source software