Data for good

Angus Flett of Smart DCC

It is clear that we face some huge challenges as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, says Angus Flett, CEO at Smart DCC. The resulting economic damage cannot slow the urgency with which climate change has to be tackled.

Informed decision-making and direct activity will rest on effective data usage. I believe that universal, free data access and sharing will accelerate efforts to reach net zero. At the DCC we plan to start by opening up smart meter system data in a fair, equitable, and, crucially, secure way to allow organisations to analyse and integrate it with other data sources for the purposes of the wider public good.

Creating a system of ‘free-to-access’ data exchanges would maximise the use of analytics to solve some of the nation’s big challenges, such as reaching net zero and ending fuel poverty. This data system will form the foundations of a nationwide Internet of Things (IoT) network, where data can be leveraged and analysed for positive societal progress such as reducing reliance on fossil fuels and bringing the electric vehicle (EV) network up to speed.

The way forward

We find ourselves at a crossroads the decisions taken over the next few years will determine the future of society as we know it. With concerted and widespread action, underpinned by smart data usage, climate change can be tackled; air pollution can be improved, and millions of people will be able to lead healthier lives as a result.

The ever-growing complexity and sophistication of society’s energy needs necessitate a new approach to energy grid management. One that puts data usage and the power of IoT at its core. Not only will the frequently discussed digitisation of the power grid play a hugely important role in enhancing our energy distribution; this process will also create an incredibly valuable data resource.

Today, the volume of data at our fingertips is hard to comprehend; 90% of global data has been produced in the last two years alone. Through rapid technological advances, the chance to source, analyse and leverage it to our benefit has never been greater.

When looking at the role that data plays in the energy sector, it is important to remember that smart meters are, in essence, IoT devices. In the past 12 months, data from smart meters is estimated to have saved UK households £270 million (€311.15 million) by showing users how much energy they consume $371 million (€310.12 billion).

In future, this data could be used to eradicate fuel poverty and enable an ageing population to lead more independent lives at home. Data from the smart meter system could underpin a heat and transport revolution pushing us further towards net zero.

Of course, we are all aware that increasing data access isn’t easy. We must go about the process in the right way. The answer will not be in the consolidation and storage of it within vast “data lakes”, as advocated by some parties.

To improve innovation and impact, we need a more inclusive approach to data access. By operating as a data exchange, the DCC, for instance, could deliver greater access to a wide spectrum of data, to a diverse group of users.

For instance, this could be used to improve local area energy planning, by leveraging public data to enhance existing data-led initiatives. Current programmes such as planning for low-carbon heating would see a tremendous benefit from further data availability.

A smart way of living

As we look to the future, data system providers such as the DCC need to change their focus to drive re-use of the technology in other markets which can reduce costs for our existing customers.

Maximising the opportunity of a digital energy grid would mean offering access to a secure network that is scaled to support a multitude of connected endpoints (environmental sensors, water meters, electric vehicle (EV) chargers, etc.

If the DCC is to realise its aim of an energy data exchange, we must ensure that its security measures grow in tandem. Our ambition is for data to deliver the best possible outcomes for society, the energy system, our customers, and their consumers. All of which, we hope, will accelerate decarbonisation.

To achieve this, we know there is some big thinking to do. There are critical issues to resolve: data privacy, and access and licensing models all of which have serious implications for our regulatory framework. This is not an activity that we at the DCC can, or should, undertake in isolation. We want to work with everyone, our customers, partners, and stakeholders, to deliver wider benefits for all of society.

The author is Angus Flett, CEO at Smart DCC.

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