The Energy Data Taskforce (EDTF) was created to advise the UK government and the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (OFGEM) on how the energy industry and the public sector can use data to facilitate greater competition, innovation and markets, particularly through increasing the availability and transparency of data.

“The EDTF plan is to open up energy system data and create a searchable ‘data catalogue’ which businesses and regulators can access,” says Foot Anstey lawyer and head of energy Christ Pritchett, who has been advising the EDTF. “This is the information used by National Grid, OFGEM, Network operators and other industry bodies to operate the UK energy system.

“We also expect people’s half-hourly data from their smart meters will be accessible unless they have opted out. Not only will this create a far more efficient energy system – because we’ll use less of it – it will also enable disruptive technologies and businesses to innovate and drive low-carbon solutions.

“The EDTF report has made recommendations as to how this can be done, ranging from a top-down approach from OFGEM and BEIS [the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy]– who are asked to provide clear direction and regulatory intent – to a bottom-up plan, with open data requirements being enshrined in licence conditions and market permissions,” says Pritchett.

Why is open data important?

With the UK committing to net-zero carbon emissions in its energy sector by 2050, significant changes in operations and infrastructure are needed to aid the transition to renewable energy.

At a Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum policy conference, Committee on Climate Change team leader David Joffe claimed that establishing and changing energy infrastructure was a ‘key reason’ for the UK setting 2050 as the year for its net-zero carbon target, saying: “Across all the sectors, there’s a huge amount that needs to be done, some more than others, and the next 10 years [are] absolutely crucial.”

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Digitalisation could potentially ease this transition. stablishing open and transparent repositories for data is an essential part of using technology to discover new solutions to the problem of carbon emissions, as well as unlocking the potential of existing energy assets.

The EDTF noted in their terms of reference: “The GB energy landscape is undergoing significant change driven by decarbonisation, more distributed resources on the system, rapid advances in technology and the emergence of new business models. Data is intrinsic to this changing system.

“Optimising the energy system will require much better data transparency and access whilst ensuring appropriate security and data protection measures.”

Creating a singular data repository

By opening energy data through the creation of a singular data repository the EDTF hopes that energy companies will work together to consolidate the efforts of the energy system as a whole, identifying developments that make operations more efficient and sustainable as the industry moves into the uncharted waters of renewable energy.

Opening data could pave the way for new technological developments as well as improvements to existing digital structures, such as implementing artificial intelligence or machine learning algorithms.

To help with this change in operations the EDTF also hopes for a change in culture throughout the energy sector, encouraging a shift from companies withholding data to a more collaborative industry environment.

“Open data has the power to unlock massive value from our energy system while at the same time delivering on the 2050 zero carbon target,” said Pritchett in a statement accompanying the publication of the EDTF’s first report.

“System data is often a closely-guarded secret currently, carefully protected by government bodies, industry and privacy laws.

But if data is shared in a way which makes sense, the opportunities for efficiencies and innovations are enormous. That only happens if we can move towards something more optimistic and future-facing.

The future of data

The idea of greater accessibility to important data is gradually being incorporated into existing energy infrastructures as part of digitalisation.

In March 2019, the UK Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) launched the UK’s first oil and gas National Data Repository (NDR) in what it claims to be one of the largest ever single open data releases. With over 130 terabytes of geophysical, infrastructure, field and well data, the OGA hopes the information provided to the energy sector through the NDR will support future carbon capture, usage and storage (CCS) projects.

Energy companies have also become more receptive to the idea of more open data infrastructures. In June 2019, Norwegian energy company Equinor announced plans to disclose datasets from the Sleipner offshore CCS plant to advance innovation and development in the field of COstorage.

“We have not encountered substantial opposition from energy companies in respect of proprietary data as the proposals respect the information businesses have gone out of their way to acquire and compile,” says Pritchett.

“Broadly, the reactions have been positive, and all system actors and consumers should ultimately share in the benefits of an efficient, agile, digital system.”

Despite these promising signs, the industry faces some obstacles on the path to digitalisation and full data transparency. As digitalisation is relatively uncharted territory, there is no openly shared data repository for the wider energy industry and a lack of common data standards means efforts to engage with open data are somewhat unfocused.