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Open Climate Fix – making the electricity grid more efficient through open data

Fri Mar 26, 2021
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Case study on the work of Open Climate Fix, recipient of the ODI’s R&D data access stimulus fund, making the electricity grid more efficient through open data

Summary

This project explores how opening up energy data can help the UK reduce energy costs and achieve net zero emissions.

Improving access to data sharing in the energy sector can make the electricity grid more efficient, can make renewable energy more attractive to investors, and can reduce the cost of energy to bill payers. In 2020, the non-profit research and development lab Open Climate Fix undertook a discovery project to further develop its work on opening up energy data, and investigate sustainable business models for sharing energy data.

In 2020–21, we set up a stimulus fund as part of the fourth year of the ODI’s R&D programme – funded by Innovate UK – and our broader programme of work on data institutions. The fund aimed to help explore approaches that enable trustworthy and ethical data sharing to help citizens and businesses lower their impact on the environment, improve public services and save lives.

The ODI stimulus fund allowed us to spend more time working on breaking down the barriers of data access in the energy industry. The fund also enabled us to question our approach to achieving economic sustainability and refining how we want to get there.

– Flo Wirtz, Co-founder, Open Climate Fix

Key facts and figures

  • Open Climate Fix used the stimulus fund opportunity to develop an Energy Data Search portal that allows data owners to share data more easily and users to find data more easily – increasing access to open energy data in the UK.
  • Central to Open Climate Fix’s approach is overcoming the barriers to data sharing: making datasets available to the open-source community, enabling computer algorithms and machine learning – to deliver value to the relevant data ecosystems.
  • Through research and investigation into differing business revenue models for non-profit organisations within the energy and sustainability second, Open Climate Fix identified that recurring revenue is very important for economic sustainability and outlined guidance around this.

What was the challenge?

The UK faces a huge challenge of decarbonising its electricity grid. The good news is that the country is making great progress in diversifying its energy systems and installing renewable generation, batteries and demand flexibility. The bad news, however, is that these diverse and distributed systems are set up in different ways, using different standards and methodologies, making it difficult for them to work together. Furthermore, inefficiencies in the system (caused in part due to the UK weather patterns) cause spikes and troughs in the supply of electricity that need to be balanced through alternative power-generation sources.

Sharing data in the energy system will reduce costs, lower the barrier to entry for innovators, and – the bit that we at Open Climate Fix are most passionate about – help achieve net zero emissions

– Jack Kelly, Co-founder, Open Climate Fix

Balancing the supply and demand in response to the increasing availability of renewable energy is challenging. Open Climate Fix believes that solving this challenge requires fine-grained coordination and optimisation of a large number of distributed energy assets. Good data, coordination and optimisation are required as first steps, allowing for resources to be scheduled more efficiently and in a more flexible manner, reducing the cost of electricity, and reducing carbon emissions.
 The key challenge, however, is that this data sits in siloes, is undiscoverable to those who need it, and is not easily accessible.

By increasing the availability of distributed energy data we will make renewable generation assets better understood and lower the carbon footprint of the UK electricity grid

– Dan Travers, Co-founder, Open Climate Fix

How is open Climate Fix solving the problem?

Open Climate Fix aims to solve this challenge by opening access to energy data. The team used the stimulus fund as an opportunity to continue its organisational mandate by both developing data infrastructure that would increase access to open energy data, and investigating business models for commercial and organisational sustainability for sharing said data.

To create open access to energy data, Open Climate Fix developed a prototype Energy Data Search portal. The CKAN-based portal contains over 500 energy datasets from over 76 organisations. Furthermore, CKAN provides a solution to the time-consuming metadata process by providing a vehicle for data stewards and owners to create and maintain dataset metadata in a visual and easy-to-use format. This improves data searchability, and enables interested data consumers to identify useful and available data that was previously undiscoverable and lost in information silos. The team aims to iterate this prototype based on user feedback, create further tooling to improve sharing standards, and share data-sharing best practice with data owners in the energy industry.

This will be the first step towards enabling solar energy to be better managed – ultimately enabling real-time machine-to-machine communication between distributed energy resources. By doing so we will remove a critical and essential blocker towards reaching net zero in the energy industry

– Flo Wirtz, Co-founder, Open Climate Fix

To focus on the sustainability of such data access initiatives, the team conducted research on pairing commercial and environmental sustainability. Building on the ODI’s ‘Designing Sustainable Data Institutions’ report, Open Climate Fix conducted a six-month feasibility study investigating and testing different revenue models, funding sources and cost structures to ensure the sustainability of sharing energy data and the role of the non-profit organisation at the centre of this process. Moving forward, Open Climate Fix aims to develop a roadmap for becoming a truly sustainable business model in the energy industry, and to continue creating open access to energy data.

What was the impact of taking this approach?

Through increasing access to shared energy data, Open Climate Fix has moved a step towards solving the challenge of uncoordinated energy systems. The Energy Data Search portal, which offers a central location for accessible and discoverable energy data, is a first step towards enabling coordinated energy systems. This is because well-managed and maintained portals like this have potential to access data that can ultimately enable real-time machine-to-machine communication between distributed energy resources. Coordinating data in this way allows Open Climate Fix, among other organisations, to use machine-learning processes to improve the accuracy of forecasting renewable energy generation. This in turn assists in balancing the supply and demand of electricity in a more efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly manner.

Central to Open Climate Fix’s approach is making data available to a community of startups, researchers, and new organisations operating in the open. Through this approach, the team is able to collectively draw upon a much larger pool of knowledge and skills than any individual company. However, adding shared value within the energy ecosystem relies on the coordination of a neutral organisation facilitating the negotiation of standards and information. Open Climate Fix believes this player should not follow its own commercial interests but rather be interested in the optimal outcome for all players, with a key mandate of creating a system that has reducing carbon emissions as its main goal.
 Through investigating various business models, Open Climate Fix has identified itself as this player, and allowed for further understanding of the vital role of data institutions in the energy sector.

Ultimately, sharing data in the energy system will make the electricity grid more efficient, reduce cost of energy for bill payers, lower the barrier to entry for innovators, and make renewable energy more attractive to investors. Sustainable data institutions play a vital role in facilitating data sharing between the many organisations in the ecosystems. While there is still lots more work to do, through creating open access to energy data, Open Climate Fix is helping to overcome the challenge of data access in energy-data systems, and is driving the UK towards reaching net zero in the energy industry.

We need to, as a community, define elegant, open standards to allow energy systems to share data whilst ensuring security, privacy and legal protection, and rewarding data owners for sharing their data

– Jack Kelly, Co-founder, Open Climate Fix

Lessons learned

  1. Open Climate Fix’s Energy Data Search portal helps data owners create and maintain and upload their own metadata, instead of trying to get all users to upload datasets to the portal. While this decentralised approach ensures that datasets can be kept up to date, a key drawback is that if the quality of datasets is poor, there is little that can be done to improve data quality.
  2. Through the project, Open Climate Fix has discovered that significantly more work needs yet to be done on creating joint schemas and harmonising existing ones across the energy industry, allowing for datasets to be joined.

What’s next

The Energy Data Search portal developed by Open Climate Fix will form part of the recently announced energy data governance platform through the Open Energy project. This project is led by Icebreaker One in collaboration with many stakeholders across the industry. The project recently won £750k in government funding – a significant investment for the energy sector that will allow Open Climate Fix to continue to work on the projects conducted As part of the stimulus gund. Part of this funding will be used to improve the Energy Data Search portal.

If you are interested in the research of Open Climate Fix please follow, read the report: ‘R&D Data Access Initiatives – Open Climate Fix – Final Report’.

Find out more

If you are interested in the research or work ODI is doing into data institutions and data access initiatives, please get in touch with a member of the team.

Other recipients of the data access stimulus fund award were Your Dsposal, DNV, Collections Trust, Open Data Manchester, ODI Leeds and Etic Lab. Find out more about the stimulus fund and what we learned here.

Read our blog Find out more about the ODI's R&D data access stimulus fund