Utility Week Live: Smart energy needs standardised, open data

Solution providers and utility consortia are racing against the clock to streamline a data avalanche that will emerge from the smart energy network to unlock its full potential.
Published: Thu 23 May 2019

Advanced digital technologies such as artificial intelligence need large amounts of data to be effective, but data from the energy market is of poor quality, difficult to extract and often tightly controlled in silos, speakers said at Utility Week Live in Birmingham.

“Data is the new oil,” said Jon Ferris, strategy director at Electron. ‘It’s messy, it’s all over the place, it’s difficult to get out, and it needs to be refined to make it useful.” Data sharing needs to be incentivised without compromising privacy so that silos can be maintained but allow coordination. Electron’s shared asset register will allow access to data without requiring it to be centralised all in one place, he said.

Connecting digital twins

Constructing a national ecosystem of connected digital twins, where physical assets are mirrored in the digital world for testing and forecasting purposes, will facilitate better decisions to be made faster based on data rather than gut feel, said Mark Enzer of Mott Macdonald representing the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB). At its core will be secure, resilient data-sharing, without which the industry will be saddled with expensive translation costs after each company develops its own protocols. CDBB is working on a Digital Twin Hub to create an “emerging commons” with a top-down and bottom-up approach at the same time within which the future standard can be built.

Blind Man’s Bluff

An open asset registry is required to move out of the “Blind Man’s Bluff” system in the UK at present, said Laura Sandys, chair of the Energy Data Task Force, a group commissioned by Ofgem and BEIS to study data requirements. It recommends a ‘presumed open’ approach to energy data where justification must be given for why it has to remain closed, given that much of it is in the hands of publicly-owned companies. Ofgem and BEIS have made a commitment to open their data sets to the extent they can, she said. “We will have to understand what each other does. We will no longer be able to say my data is mine get your hands off it. It’s going to have to be here it is on a plate in an easy-to-read format.”

A new digital infrastructure is required that will optimise assets on the ground as close to the grid edge as possible, said Neil Pennington, strategic advisor at the Energy Web Foundation, comprising a group of companies working together on blockchain solutions. Energy networks need to move away from a centrally-controlled grid to one in which assets communicate with each other, he said. “There is a dynamic interdependency from the old world into the new world. We can’t rely on centralised siloed data centres moving data between intermediaries.”


The tension between local versus central control of data could be resolved by building data trusts where organisations agree to be trusted partners, suggested Stuart Lester of Transport for West Midlands. Parties could agree on how to exchange information to enable the sensible roll-out of infrastructure, he said.

Daisy chain

Not everyone agreed that a “daisy-chain” of data between thousands of devices will work, however. There needs to be an element of central processing, said Stuart Lacey, chief executive of Electralink. His company has an agile development centre in Nottingham to improve data transparency and is working on a standard interface for flexibility providers which aims to have a new platform by the end of the year. “Data access is a delicate balance between making everything transparent and protecting the privacy of the consumer. You’ve got to get the balance right,” he said.

There is a disconnect between the motives of incumbent energy companies and new entrants in terms of access to data. “In any market transition there’s going to be winners and losers and the incumbents tend to be the losers, but they are the ones who have the data that can make the change,” Lacey said. But the energy market revolution needs data and code to be open in order for the physical and digital infrastructure to be fit for purpose.


Electron's asset register

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