As the UK moves to meet its net zero target, we are already seeing fundamental shifts in energy production, consumption and saving, which will have a significant impact on both consumers and the GB energy market. This includes electrification of heat and transport which could potentially see peak demand doubling by 2050, according to National Grid ESO’s latest Future Energy Scenarios.

To meet these challenges, National Grid ESO is also forecasting demand side flexibility to increase exponentially from 6 GW today to potentially over 100 GW by 2050. In addition, there is also the question of what role hydrogen will play in a net zero economy, and the role of energy storage to manage peaks and troughs in demand and generation. Delivering this requires significant investment and innovation.

There is also the question of how to get all of this to work together in the background to ensure the lights stay on and homes are warm, while multiple parties look to manage their networks and costs. Open data has an important role to support this transition and the opportunity to support innovation while ensuring customer data is protected.

Open data harnesses distributed resources

Looking ahead, there is a clear need to ensure that all energy data is open. This includes customer consumption data and information on behind the meter assets – that is those utilised directly by businesses and homes.

Greater visibility in these areas can ensure that customers are able to get the best deals when switching suppliers or deciding whether to invest in solar panels, electric vehicles or batteries, as well as ensuring energy efficiency and vulnerability measures are targeted at those that need it most.

On the flip side, network asset (in front of the meter) information and consumption data is needed to inform investment for large-scale generation, storage and demand side response (DSR) services, as well as supporting system planning and to allow for cost recognition for delivered services .

To deliver this, we at ElectraLink believe that data trusts should be formed to ensure that data is open and protected. Some already exist today, but there are also significant gaps that need to be addressed.

Streamlining data trusts through digital intervention

Technology can be used to administer a data trust so that gaining access to the data can be quicker using automation.

Currently, applications have to be assessed and approved manually, which can take up to 28 days if industry approval is required. With digital intervention, automatic assessments can be made – with data protection impact assessments (DPIAs) submitted through online portals and access rights determined on the role rather than relying on manual processes. Eventually, artificial intelligence could be deployed to assess DPIAs and determine whether further assessment is required.

Ultimately, the aim is to comply with data laws and protections, while ensuring that those who want to benefit from open data, and wider societal benefits, are realised well before the Net Zero 2050 deadline.

In our experience, setting up a data trust with proper governance enables the benefits of open data to be realised – data controllers can have certainty that data laws are being followed and a light touch assurance regime ensures that customer data is protected.

In the case of the Data Transfer Service (DTS), a User Group oversees our data trust. This group of GB energy market representatives ensures that data is only released if it benefits competition or consumers and carries out an authorisation process for non-DTS users who wish to access the data. This process gives the industry time to consider the costs and benefits of sharing data with new organisations and enables data democratisation.

In the future, the industry and its central bodies will need to determine whether it is better to have multiple data trusts and governance or to develop a single data trust responsible for providing stewardship of energy industry data to benefit consumers and society more generally. Either approach can use technology to speed up the assurance and authorisation process. But the primary aim should always be to ensure that data is open and protected according to data legislation and best practice.

A version of this article was first published on LinkedIn.