From Gigabytes to Megawatts: Open Energy Data Assessments for Accra and Nairobi

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Doing homework at night using power generated by human movement during recess earlier in the day.
This play-powered light is offered by Empower Playgrounds.  (http://www.empowerplaygrounds.org/

A new assessment of energy use in  Nairobi and Accra shows that measuring and sharing data would improve life for people in both capitals by increasing energy access and  efficiency. 
 
The key is access to information. Releasing energy information such as data on power networks, energy usage and on the potential to switch to renewables could mean more efficient development and improved services for consumers.  Access to data could bring many positive changes. It could speed up private sector and civil society engagements in the energy sector. For example, wind power companies could benefit from digital power network and wind resource data to find new markets. Or NGOs providing solar lamps for students could better target their operations by getting access to maps of off-grid communities and schools. 
 
When I started working on energy access and biomass in Mozambique in 2007, the concept of “open data” wasn’t even  on my radar.  But the  practical implications of not having that information was an everyday frustration.  My colleagues in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energies and  I would spent days searching for numbers we needed on basic trends, like key information on charcoal prices,  with little success. For urgent needs,  we would spend considerable amounts of time visiting line-ministries and other partners to see if we could pool our talents to come up with somewhat accurate data.  And this was for truly basic information, for a picture, say, of  biomass consumption in Sofala province, or a number for improved cookstoves in use across Mozambique. Back then, we couldn’t even imagine a national online portal that would publish all our missing data points in an easily accessible format. But the high cost of data gaps were apparent even then.
 
Today, policy makers, civil society, and entrepreneurs are asking for and using more granular and localized data. From a research center in Nairobi working on rural electrification models, to citizens and journalists in Accra requesting better information to deal with the country’s energy crisis, Open Energy Data is rapidly demonstrating its great potential for emerging cities.   In the United States, energy data is considered so valuable that the Department of Energy has launched several initiatives that make high-value data sets available through API’s*.  These allow programmers to use the government’s data to reveal new opportunities and trends. It is part of a push to keep the U.S. energy sector competitive and innovative.

 The benefits of opening data up are pretty clear, as are the steps to doing so. The first step  is collecting and sharing basic energy data, most of which is already technically available to the public. The trouble is that while most of information is available, it’s often stored as paper copies, pdf files or other harder-to-share formats. Opening energy data means publishing online, in an easy-to-use format, and without legal restriction, any information useful for the development of the energy sector.
 

Energy efficiency audits could offer valuable insights on common energy usage and conservation potential if digitized and shared publicly.
And not left in the hallway. Photo: Anna Lerner, World Bank
 
Many countries across Africa are making progress on open data.  In Uganda, the entire  power network is available online.  In Kenya, power outages are published in real-time and people can report lack of electricity via SMS. The Information and Communications Technology Authority in Ghana and Kenya are available to assist any individual or institution interested in energy data. Despite these steps,  however, very little energy data has been shared as of yet. That is in part because people simply don’t know the information is available and accessible, and in part because many energy stakeholders aren’t yet attuned to the benefits of open data.
 
To address some of these issues, the World Bank Transport and ICT Global Practice conducted a first series of Open Energy Data Assessments in urban areas. In addition to suggesting a number of easy-to-do actions that could significantly benefit cities, the assessments also found that energy data have much less value when other key basic datasets are missing. For this reason, experts recommend starting with urban maps, electricity extension plans and land registries. These are essential, but too often missing, pieces of information that can significantly increase the value of open energy data.
 
And, finally, the assessments recommend that national Open Data Initiatives work more closely with energy regulators to identify the right incentives for energy producers to release and use their data in a better way.
 
Sustainable energy is at the center of the global agenda, especially with the recent conclusion of  the Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP21)  in Paris and the high-level discussions around Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL).  Access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy is a basic building block for development.  A combination of innovative technologies, business models and policies need to be put in place to tackle climate change and foster the needed shift towards more sustainable energy solutions. We saw this ten years ago when I was working in Mozambique. We are much closer, now, to making this critical information the building block of a sustainable energy system.
 
For more information, please contact Anna Lerner, ICT and Energy Specialist, World Bank ([email protected])
 
Download the Open Energy Data Assessment reports:
   
Use, share, and improve the Open Energy Data Assessment methodology
 
The methodology adapts the established World Bank Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA), which helps to highlight valuable connections between data suppliers and data demand through eight principal dimensions. The resulting Open Energy Data Assessment methodology is made today available as part of the Open Data Toolkit  This methodology is a work in progress. We therefore welcome any feedback or suggestions in this online version of the methodology, which is open for comments.
 
*Application program interface is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications.
 
 

Authors

Anna Lerner

Energy and ICT Specialist

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