Utility Week Live explores… smart utilities and sharing data

This winter saw the warmest February in England and Wales since records began in 1884, according to the Met Office.

The south of England also had its wettest February, with much of the region experiencing more than twice the average rainfall. These records provided yet more evidence that the frequency of some types of extreme weather – especially warm temperature extremes and heavy rainfall – is increasing.

Part of the challenge of climate change for utilities is not just decarbonisation; it’s also hardening infrastructure to cope with an increase in warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers. And that’s where projects like NIMBUS – which aims to ensure networks are resilient to extreme weather – come in.

NIMBUS (the acronym stands for Network Innovation and Meteorology to Build for Sustainability) will give us the capability to use high resolution climate data to accurately predict the impact of climate change on assets over their lifetime. This should help to extend asset lifespan and cut replacement costs – and ultimately costs to consumers.

The project is backed by industry players including SSEN Transmission and tech giant IBM, but is also being facilitated by Icebreaker One, the not-for-profit organisation which is helping utilities (among others) share data to meet the challenges of the energy transition. In fact, open data, says Icebreaker One, is a key enabler of reaching net zero.


Open data: Are utilities delivering?

Utilities know this already. The recent Utility Week Intelligence Flexibility Forum with CGI acknowledged the importance of open data, which is high on a very long list of priorities for energy and water companies. Sharing data is even now mandated by regulators, but there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of doing that effectively.

There’s the question of what data sets should be prioritised, for starters. There are also difficulties when data is presented in different ways, not to mention problems when data is not of a consistent quality. “Data is only good if it is reliable; we should avoid making decisions based on unreliable data,” pointed out one attendee to the forum.

Data must be also readily shareable and easy to access. Or as the Open Data Handbook has it, open data “is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike”. Utilities now agree this is the way forward for collaborating to hit common goals when it comes to climate change.

They are at different stages on their open data journeys, however. In summer 2023, Northumbrian Water became the first water company to publish an open data strategy after Ofwat ruled all companies must open up data sets. Northumbrian’s strategy aims to make a wide range of useful data sets available, together with contextual information to help others use and interpret the data as easily as possible.

“The industry needs to form new collaborations to find new solutions to best support our customers,” said chief executive Heidi Mottram at the time. “We believe that open data has a big role to play in helping us to tackle these issues. We will continue to be brave, working with Ofwat to push forward with open data as a strategic priority and unlocking value for our business, for our customers and for our environment.”

The Utility Week Intelligence roundtable with Autodesk before Christmas found water sector leaders saying that while the industry was under unprecedented pressure, data could help ease the burden: “There are a lot of unknowns. But there is potential for technology and data to help. Exchange of data is the key one.”

So, with end of decade climate change targets looming, and the mid-century goal of a net zero economy the grand prize, utilities must now work together to open up their data and make sure it’s in a fit state to be used – whatever the weather.


Open data is just one of the subjects on the content programme at this year’s Utility Week Live – hear more from Icebreaker One on the Smart Utilities Stage. Register now here.