Riding the data revolution wave toward sustainable energy for all

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Today, more than 1 billion people still live without access to energy, despite the multiplication of efforts from public, private and non-governmental actors. At the same time, global efforts abound to keep global warming under 2 degree Celsius, in accordance with the historic Paris Climate Agreement.

The explicit need of the hour is a significant increase of annual investments in energy access, renewables and energy efficiency – in the hundreds of billions of dollars’ range. So what role does open data play in such a scenario, you may wonder. 

Open data is the cornerstone of any meaningful effort to reach Sustainable Development Goal 7 , which aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Data gaps


Fueled by the uptake of digital technologies in recent years, the volume of global data is expanding exponentially. Reports estimate that 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years. This offers opportunities to capitalize on massive volumes of freely available data to spur economic growth. For instance, McKinsey estimates that better and more accessible data could unlock as much as $3 trillion a year, globally. This is what some call the data revolution.

But there are disparities when it comes to harnessing data for growth, and the data revolution is leaving some people and countries behind. Some regions are rich in data, while others are not (The Economist has called Africa the “ continent of missing data,” for instance). Some countries have the means to analyze data, while others do not. These disparities extend to the public and private sectors as well, where some companies and organizations are much better equipped to gather and analyze data than others.

The data and analytics gap affects the ability of governments and organizations to design, implement and monitor impactful programs. When it comes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), data is essential for achieving targets. Yet, data for tracking progress on even those targets is hard to come by: An established methodology and regularly produced data is only available for 42% of the 230 SDG indicators, according to the United Nations’ Inter-agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators.

The energy sector is no different. For example, until the first edition of the World Bank’s Global Tracking Framework was released in 2013, comprehensive global data of national electrification rates and their progress over time had never been collected.

Today, critical data is often unreliable or unavailable, from energy demand at the subnational level to the location of electricity network assets. Not only is this a challenge for government and other interventions, but it also impedes private sector investments because the cost of data collection, or the risk of proceeding without it, is too high.

Beyond access to data, many developing countries also need greater capacity and investments in analytics to generate insights from data . While the development community is starting to realize such needs and develop interesting initiatives such as the United Nations Global Pulse, it is universities and research centers that are leading much of the innovation in this space, and more efforts are needed.
Open data and analytics as a cornerstone

Figure 1: Satellite Image from Monrovia, Liberia

Closing the data and analytics gap will take increased awareness and political will, as well as time and money. Here are four actions that development actors should prioritize:
  1. Develop countries’ capacity to fully leverage data, algorithms and tools independently and at a lower cost, maximizing immediate value and accelerating long-term uptake. Examples of such tools for the energy sector include Network Planner, an open source electrification planning tool developed by Columbia University and used by governments around the world, or OSeMOSYS, an open source modelling system for long-run integrated assessment and energy planning developed by KTH University.
  2. Reinforce the capacity of countries to systematically collect data and statistics, a foundational measure.
  3. Make use of big data sources, often in partnership with the private sector (see Orange’s Data for Development Initiative, or the collaboration between CIESIN and Facebook that led to the publication of one of the most precise rural settlements geospatial dataset to date).
  4. Open up the data that is already being collected, and make it more easily available in a timely manner.
Every day governments, private sector and development aid organizations collect data to inform, prepare and implement policies and investments. Yet, while reports on this data are made public, the data underpinning the analysis remains locked in a computer out of reach. Because of this, the tremendous value it could bring to public and private actors in data-poor environments is too often lost.

Launching ENERGYDATA.INFO alongside a call for partnerships and action


A new open data from The World Bank Group and several partners is trying to change that. ENERGYDATA.INFO launched last week, featuring more than 180 datasets that were previously unavailable or hard to retrieve. The platform is free, and a global public good that is meant to be a one-stop shop for open data in the energy sector. Governments and other public and private organizations are encouraged to contribute energy data and analytics to the platform.

Partners so far include the World Resources Institute, Columbia University Earth Institute, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Innovation Energie Développement, GIZ, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, the United Nations, and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. They have published datasets on ENERGYDATA.INFO such as: The website also  offers data analytics, most of which are open source and available of the platform GitHub account, and tailored to developing countries’ needs. Users can, for example, assess the potential market for off-grid energy solutions, determine solar power potential and solar plant prospective electricity outputs for any given location with the new Global Solar Atlas, monitor rural electrification progress from nightlight satellite imagery data, generate universal electrification scenarios, and compare sustainable energy policies and regulations globally.

While users’ enthusiasm and initial results are encouraging, it will take sustained efforts and more actors to truly make a difference. The launch of ENERGYDATA.INFO is only one of many critical steps needed to end energy poverty and substantially advance clean energy, and the World Bank Group will need partnerships and collective action to fully realize the transformation it intends to power.


Yann Tanvez

Energy Specialist with the World Bank Sustainable Energy Department, Strategy and Operations

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