The energy industry has been slow to adopt common data standards and open-source modelling frameworks. Matt Gray and Lucas Kruitwagen, at climate analytics non-profit TransitionZero, explain how companies that embrace transparency and invite scrutiny will prosper in the energy transition against those that resist this paradigmatic shift.
- Energy system modelling plays a critical role in shaping our understanding of the future energy landscape.
- The lack of open data standards, however, hinders meaningful comparisons between different organisations’ views of the future.
- While some organisations see the sharing of code and data as surrendering competitive advantage, others recognise the benefits of collaboration.
Due to climate change, our energy system is at the centre of a global transformation. Technology and innovation are essential components in this shift, and open source stands out as a revolutionary force that has the potential to change the way we understand, manage, and shape our energy future.
Open source revolution is coming to the energy sector
Energy system modelling plays a critical role in shaping our understanding of the future energy landscape. Governments assessing climate policy costs, investors seeking prime wind and solar locations, and corporations planning net-zero strategies tend to rely on energy system modelling for decision-making. These decisions tend to have huge implications for taxpayers and energy consumers.
The lack of open data standards hinders meaningful comparisons between different organisations’ views of the future. This lack of interoperability leads to fragmented projections and prevents the emergence of a consensus view, making it challenging to gauge the relative impact of differing energy strategies.
In the energy sector, open-source approaches have historically been viewed with scepticism. Consultants and think tanks, who create and use closed-source models, are reluctant to invite public scrutiny and may have business models that are incompatible with openly appropriable code and data. Governments have also resisted open source due to outdated IT systems and national security concerns.
Rather than being seen as a threat, open data standards present an untapped opportunity to address structural deficiencies in current approaches to energy modelling that are hindering the transition. Open markets tend to reduce costs for consumers and, therefore, taxpayers, hence the decades-long drive to deregulate energy markets. Information is the lifeblood of markets, and for markets to be truly open, open data is a requisite.
Nuts and bolts of open source
Louis Brandeis’s maxim that “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman” seems almost tailor-made for our age, an age where open source serves as both disinfectant and policeman.
Comparing open source to closed solutions is like juxtaposing the home assembly required of an IKEA flatpack with a premium, fully-assembled offering. While the former demands skill and creativity, the latter might provide a comfortable, ready-to-use solution at a higher cost. But this analogy goes deeper, reflecting a philosophical divergence between these approaches. Open source encourages user engagement, adaptability, and innovation, while closed systems might streamline processes at the expense of flexibility and inclusiveness.
In pursuing a just energy transition, open source could be a key to empowering public discourse around crucial decisions. Open source does not merely expose information; it opens it up to scrutiny, ensuring that biases, errors, and misinformation are weeded out. Whether it’s revealing hard-coded biases in social media algorithms or errors in economic models, open source serves as a crucial check and balance.
The good news is open energy systems models such as PyPSA and OSeMOSYS are growing in prominence and have the potential to become instrumental in how we comprehend, plan, and navigate our energy landscape. They are akin to building kits with varying degrees of complexity, ranging from pre-assembled IKEA furniture to the more complex, self-assembled Lego sets. These models, despite often requiring specialised skills like coding to use, have encouraged collaboration and given rise to solutions that might not have been conceivable within a closed, proprietary system.
Aligning interests and the role of government
While some organisations see the sharing of code and data as surrendering competitive advantage, others recognise the benefits of collaboration. Open source fosters data standardisation that can lead to increased efficiency and innovation for all involved. The challenge lies in convincing private entities to value this collaborative approach over their guarded interests.
In an age where disclosure has evolved into a regulatory measure, aligning the interests of the public and investors is a nuanced challenge. Public access to decision-making frameworks, values, assumptions, and data ensures that collective wisdom rather than isolated interests guide our energy future. Open source plays a vital role in preventing disclosure from becoming a pointless box-ticking exercise. Governments have a pivotal role in steering the open-source revolution.
The energy industry must embrace open data standards or risk having these changes forced upon them. By overcoming cultural barriers, encouraging data sharing, and embracing open-source models, the sector can become protagonists in this shift – rather than rule-takers in the quest for a just energy transition.
A future defined by shared values
As we stand at a crossroads, facing critical choices that will shape our shared future, open source offers a path to reduce costs and accelerate the energy transition.
The opinions of guest authors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of SG Voice.