Matt Webb, head of enterprise data, UK Power Networks Network Excellence, Comment, UK Power Networks, decarbonisation, renewable energy, renewables, Networks, Asset management, Smart flexible networks

Matt Webb, head of enterprise data at UK Power Networks, leads the company’s data and information management strategy, is responsible for enterprise data governance and heads up the development of open data services. Here, he explores the transformative potential and public purpose of open energy data.

Let’s imagine a website. You log in. You’re greeted with an interactive map of Great Britain. You zoom in to the south of England. You can see the entire electricity network. You can click on every cable, or public electric vehicle charger, and see how power is flowing through it. You can view a specific substation, find out when it was built, how many transformers it has, and whether its peak demand is on a Thursday evening or Friday afternoon.

The tool I’ve just described is an aspirational vision for a portal in a world where we’ve realised the full potential of open energy data. As an industry, we are still at the start of that journey.

We at UK Power Networks have already taken a fundamental step towards achieving this vision with our Open Data portal, but it’s the future which really excites me.

The transformative potential is staggering, especially if it includes – as it well should – data from stakeholders across the energy system rather than just networks alone.

Data access driving flexibility

Let’s start with a recent example. This month we took several local authorities through our portal, showing them various data sets on the interactive map. We demonstrated a range of data sets and functionality within the platform, facilitating various potential use cases and new insights.

When we showed them the locations of all our substations, overlayed with flood zone data from the Environment Agency, everyone on the call could see the real-world applications. It could help plan flood defences, or help councils design sustainable developments like new schools, shopping centres, transport links or hospitals.

That’s the fundamental power of a portal like this. By layering up different data sources – and combining brain power – we can radically improve our ability to achieve sustainable development.

Elsewhere on the portal, we recently became the first DNO to release data sets about flexibility zones and tender reports from our February 2021 tender. Users can view previous bids, costs, and capacity to continue to improve transparency and market competition. This means they can make informed decisions and more competitive bids for long-term contracts.

Such access to information could become one of the primary drivers in growing our flexibility market, attracting new providers, increasing efficiency, and driving down costs for all. We as a DNO win too: growing our provider pool to better meet our requirements, and saving our customers money over the long term.

And that’s just what we can do today. Use cases will only continue to grow as we build a community of users, expand our offering, and add new functionality.

Building business cases

In the future, a start-up might call data via an Application Programming Interface (API), using thousands of data points to create a new piece of software, algorithm or artificial intelligence model that can help DNOs optimise their network configurations.

The startup might grow and serve network and system operators across the country. Domestic consumers would then start to benefit from a more reliable, cost-effective network. This story isn’t entirely dissimilar to the one that led Smarter Grid Solutions, based in Glasgow, to create DERMS software which is being used right now to revolutionise the way we manage our network.

A local council, energy aggregator and charge point provider might join up to view the portal together. They could pinpoint the places in their area which have relatively few public chargers and the most to gain from air quality improvements. The aggregator could complete analysis to understand how the chargers could be used smartly and potentially even provide flexibility services, while the chargepoint operator could analyse existing infrastructure to find the most cost-effective locations.

With accessible data and information about the energy network, their ambition to provide electric transport infrastructure could become a reality.

Staying on the topic of distributed energy resources, a prospective investor in renewables might use the tool to view where generation is currently connected. They might view how much capacity is available in certain areas, or view the submitted service and utilisation fee for past flexibility providers and whether they were accepted or not. That might be the difference in helping them build a business case to make the investment and build a new wind farm.

  • Hear Matt Webb, head of enterprise data at UKPN, discuss digital asset management and breaking down data barriers at Utility Week Live, 17-18 May 2022. Register here for free.

Electricity fundamental to society change

To achieve all this, we need to release our data in a structured and coordinated way. Our Open Data principles is a foundational document covering our overarching approach, how we will manage and publish data, and how we will assess which data sets we publish.

In writing the document, we partnered with leading experts and engaged with hundreds of interested parties to understand what we need to achieve, enable and publish in the future. As mentioned, we’re clear about our vision and the benefits open data can bring, but it also sets out our stall for protecting privacy and security, gaining trust and confidence, and facilitating more collaboration.

Our principles function in line with our 2022 Digital Strategy and Action Plan, which sets out of digital operating model and shows how we’ll use new technology to benefit our customers, our employees, our assets and to build a smarter network.

To reach net zero emissions, we need to take the carbon out of electricity and put electricity into everything else. That makes the electricity network fundamental to how we transform our society over the next 30 years. This has applications beyond sustainability too: in the information age, providing accessible, reliable and interoperable information about the UK’s electricity system is a clear, powerful public purpose which has benefits for all.

That is why we’re so determined to be at the forefront of open energy data. So, if you share this vision – or have ideas about how it could be improved – join our community of users, use our portal, and tell us what you be useful for you. We’ll continue to push the boundaries.

See this content brought to life at Utility Week Live, 17-18 May 2022 NEC Birmingham. FREE to attend for utilities. Register today

Delivering smart energy networks is one of the frontline challenges at the heart of Utility Week Live 2022’s live content programme. View the programme.

What to read next