• Energy Cloud
  • Open Data
  • Blockchain
  • DER

Delivering Open Data in the Energy Cloud

Jul 09, 2019

Energy Cloud

My previous blog discussed how a new approach to data management is required to scale the future energy system to incorporate (potentially) hundreds of millions of behind-the-meter devices. In this complementary blog, I discuss the concept of open data, and how a couple vendors I have recently spoken with hope to deliver this openness.

Markets Start to Embrace Open Data

The UK’s Energy Data Taskforce, part of the Energy Systems Catapult accelerator, was established to instruct the government, energy regulator Ofgem, and the energy industry on how to find and use energy system data. The taskforce believes that open data will deliver greater competition, improve price and market visibility, drive product innovation, services, and business models, and create a more efficient, cost-effective system that works for consumers. The basis of the Energy Data Taskforce’s report, A Strategy for a Modern Digitised Energy System, is that data should be “presumed open.” This premise will lead to a digitized energy system with “more data, easier access to data, much improved analytics, greater interoperability, and greater digital capabilities across the energy sector.” 

There is little in the Energy Data Taskforce’s report that I disagree with. Its recommendations include an asset register and the creation of a full digital twin of the UK power system, all anticipated to contribute to data visibility in the future. My one concern is how the report’s recommendations will be implemented. Will this register and digital twin be centralized or decentralized, or will we create another data silo operated by an organization driven by its own profitability and self-interest? How will distributed energy resource (DER) owners be incentivized to join the asset register? 

Scaling Energy System Communication to Billions of Devices

The Energy Data Taskforce’s report discusses data but not how the system will communicate. This is another area where I have concerns regarding centralization. My previous blog discussed the waves of device deployments in the Internet of Energy and their different requirements. Until now, centralized communications have scaled to millions of devices. Worldwide, smart meters successfully transmit data either directly to a utility or a data hub. 

Could a centralized communications model work for DER? In theory, if 5G vendor marketing is to be believed, yes. But are centralized communications systems desirable, or even practical? Putting aside scalability, we have to remember that DER sit behind-the-meter. These are not utility-owned assets, they are customers’ devices. While a system operator needs visibility into a transactive energy market, we largely expect devices to transact with other devices without the need for centralization of this data.

Multiple technologies exist to provide this communication layer, with blockchain being the first to spring to mind. However, the market is crowded with startups all vying for a leadership position for their proprietary platforms. Alternatives to these are the blockchain consortia such as the Energy Web Foundation and Hyperledger, which provide a common basis where other applications can be created.

Decentralized Communications Must Be Secure

For a final point, my colleague Roberto Rodriguez Labastida’s latest blog sounded a warning to transactive energy market planners: security must be paramount. Scaling to billions of devices increases the number of potential access points for a malicious actor. The erroneous bid in the Belgian market that Labastida discussed can equally happen in a transactive energy market, causing market collapse. Whatever communication technology is used, it must include robust device identification, verification, and provisioning of a standard that befits critical national infrastructure.