Building Data Ecosystems in Energy & Utilities, key for the Energy Transition.
Sharing data in a fair and trusted way can be very powerful, bringing a strategic change in attitude toward data ownership and value. It is a concept that we refer to as “data equity”.
Data equity is established when members of business ecosystems establish shareholding interests in the collective value of otherwise disparate datasets. Such interests are represented and managed in an equitable and trustworthy manner to ensure that the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
But before we explore the specific significance of data equity in the context of E&U, let’s first examine the history of data sharing in the industry.
Data sharing in Energy & Utilities
Data sharing in E&U is nothing new. Just look at energy trading, where generators share data with bidding purchasers to balance supply and demand; and consider how distribution companies share metering data with retailers to enable consumer billing. But these interchanges are often driven by regulatory processes with a clearly defined and restricted scope. This in turn limits the value that can be created from such exchanges.
However, when used to enable an E&U service provision ecosystem, data sharing can bring tremendous incremental value. Similar to the way that genomic data sharing allowed pharmaceutical companies to rapidly develop their novel vaccines, creating a data-sharing ecosystem for E&U will allow energy and utility companies to quickly create innovative approaches to the emerging challenges that they face. Previously unimagined solutions can be anticipated.
Take the European Union’s Copernicus Earth Observation Programme as an example. The Copernicus Land Monitoring Service (CLMS) provides geographical information on aspects such as land use, vegetation state and water cycles, among a broad range of users. E&U companies can make use of that data in a variety of ways, including identifying where vegetation control is needed and an understanding of where terrain movement may stress pipelines.
The Atos Mundi earth observation platform gives unlimited, free and complete access to real-time geo Copernicus satellite data. Users can that integrate this accurate and real-time information with their own data and tools to build new innovative products and services.
Establishing data-sharing platforms
But data sharing shouldn’t be done ‘haphazardly.’ Sharing data within appropriately controlled platforms can ensure that the benefits of industry-specific data models (ontologies) are exploited and that security, privacy, and sovereignty are properly managed. Platforms can also provide extensible federated models based on standardized sharing mechanisms (APIs).
Gaia-X is a European initiative which aims to create open, transparent digital ecosystems built upon the concept of Industrial Data Spaces. It envisions secure, federated infrastructures and applications that is capable of meeting the highest digital sovereignty standards without constraining opportunities for innovation. Data and services will be shared through environments of trust that have defined and certifiable standards and codes of connection.
E&U data spaces and a range of associated innovative use cases are being defined right now through collaborations between of Energy companies, governmental organizations, and Information and communications technology (ICT) companies like Atos. We anticipate that initiatives such as this will help the whole energy value chain undergo a major evolutionary step toward a more resilient value mesh.
The new energy landscape, decentralized and based on intermittent, renewable energies, involves more actors, making data platforms vital to the smooth running of the network.
Building data ecosystems beyond E&U
The power of energy related data sharing doesn’t stop with E&U companies, it has relevance and value across a broad range of sectors, including homes, cities, industry and transport. We can expect the emergence of ‘constellations of industrial data spaces.’, enabling an exciting mix of cross-sector use cases.
Using electric vehicles to optimize the energy footprint of a smart city is just one example, where energy companies and city councils can create new services for increasing cities’ energy efficiency, while utilities balance their power network.
Take the example of consumers charging their electric vehicles at home. One potential service could automatically limit car charging when overall network demand is high, subject to individual patterns of driver usage. It would, for example, ensure that the driver has enough charge to get to work in the morning. The driver might be offered incentives for accommodating this way of consuming, such as a discount on the electricity used for vehicle charging.
Combining the data platforms of energy companies and those of cities will be critical for managing the challenge of decarbonization. After all, the generation and consumption of energy is tightly linked to the carbon footprint of any product or service.
Mitigating potential ethical pitfalls
While these emergent data platforms can open up new business opportunities for E&U companies, using them inappropriately will open up issues around fairness (another meaning of “equity”). One clear dimension of fairness is related to privacy, specifically of end-consumer data.
Privacy of end-consumer data becomes increasingly critical as consumers play a more active role in their energy activities. Moreover, combining energy data with other types of data may open the door to profiling or, in the worst case, even surveillance.
There may also be more subtle ethical issues that are more difficult to detect but have long-lasting consequences. For example, combining energy, transport, and other data in a smart city may optimize its overall energy footprint, but hidden biases in the data may indirectly benefit affluent areas (by increasing availability of more Electric Vehicles rechargers, for example) while increasing energy poverty in others – in other words, increasing the energy poverty gap.
Sharing data is no longer an option
As I said at the start, the pandemic has in many ways highlighted the value of data sharing. So much so, that the more data-oriented companies have tended to be less impacted by the crisis. Yet energy and utility companies are typically less active in exploiting data than their counterparts in other sectors. This needs to change.
As energy networks become more decentralized with an increased dependence on renewable sources, reliance on data will increase. The new energy landscape, decentralized and based on intermittent, renewable energies, involves more actors, making data platforms vital to the smooth running of the network. In any case, the societal and environmental challenges that we will face in the coming decades require that E&U companies meaningfully exchange the value of the data equity associated with their operations and services.
Explore our ‘Rebound report’ to discover how to start preparing today for the rebound after the COVID-19 crisis.