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By Mike McRae 28 February 2018 4 min read

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IT might come as a surprise, but if you’re in need of data that describes our country’s production, distribution, and use of energy, you’re going to need to do some legwork. Right now there’s no single platform you could click into to find the information you’d need.

“The data is scattered across many different organisations,” explains Adam Berry, leader of the CSIRO’s Energy Research Group and driving force behind something called the Energy Use Data Model – or EUDM for short. “It is stored in pretty much every form imaginable.”

If it was simply a matter of opening a one-stop-shop for all your data needs, the solution would have appeared a long time ago. Unfortunately in today’s information-conscious world, data is more than just about the numbers.

“For some organisations, the data itself is seen as core intellectual property, and wider publication and sharing of the data could potentially weaken their commercial position,” says Dr Berry.

Then there’s data rot – the fact information degrades over time, like last year’s produce at the back of the shelf.

“All of these things together means that building a single definitive and comprehensive data collection in this field has been rather difficult.”

Times, they are a changin'

Until now, it’s all been in the too-hard basket. If we haven’t been eager to find solutions before, we certainly will need to in the near future. Signs of our changing energy needs aren’t hard to find; in 2017 super-entrepreneur Elon Musk was big news in South Australia as he fulfilled his promise to build a record-breaking lithium-ion battery in just 100 days to stabilise the state’s power needs.

Musk’s deal not only made for good headlines for his company, Tesla, it was also writing on the wall for our nation’s energy infrastructure. CSIRO has also been developing its own ‘ultrabattery’, demonstrating energy storage is set to be grounds for some intense competition in coming years.

Moving from fossil fuels into having enough renewable resources to meet our growing needs won’t happen by magic; it will need researchers to design the technology, investors to build it, policy makers to permit it, businesses to sell it, and us – the consumers – to buy it.

And for that to happen smoothly, every step in the chain is going to need all the information they can get their hands on.

Dr Adam Berry and his team are working on a new EUDM website and consumer survey app.

For the past several years, the CSIRO has been working on ways to integrate data gathered from a range of stakeholders and store it in one place. Not just how many joules we’re using each year, either, but combining it with details such as who’s using it, what they’re paying for it, and how they’re getting it.

Imagine mapping the patterns between weather and energy consumption and linking it with solar photovoltaics, or having the power to predict market trends as new energy players enter the field.

Achieving this required the critical integration of sciences across a range of fields.

Transforming data to help it integrate neatly is just part of the strategy. There’s a need to develop sciences to unlock the hidden values deep inside the data. Not to mention the security tools to lock the data away and maintain privacy.

Plugging in to consumer behaviour

Outside all of that is a strong need to understand how people might use the data in the first place. Luckily, Adam’s team of researchers has that sorted as well.

“We have a social sciences team that runs a comprehensive surveying program to address gaps that we simply cannot fill with existing data,” says Dr Berry.

diaram showing inputs on energy use from residential consumers
What are the key characteristics of contemporary Australian energy consumers and how do they relate to energy use?

In front of it all is a platform to provide ease of accessibility, not just for the big players in the energy game but any individual who holds an interest. Having this kind of access to clearly modelled data at hand is more than a convenience.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s review of the state and future security of the national energy market pointed out a gap in forecasting and planning. “For instance, as a result of current net settlement arrangements between retailers, no single entity (including AEMO ) has access to a complete set of energy consumption data,” he writes.

It’s a gap the Australian Government is taking seriously, committing $13.4 million out of the 2017 federal budget in order to support the EUDM’s ongoing development.

Evidence based decision making only works if you have sound evidence readily available for whatever problems arise. And many of those problems won’t be obvious ahead of time.

As Berry puts it, “If we don’t have the data about these massive shifts and what they mean to Australia, then we are running blind – and that is not a good way to design an optimal future!”

Read more on the EUDM and also via the Department of the Environment and Energy.

The Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market Blueprint for the Future (June 2017), otherwise known as the Finkel Review.

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