Back in the 1980s, computers communicated over a hodge-podge mix of clunky, complex protocols. Building new services spanning more than one machine (or just maintaining existing services) was painful, expensive and slow.
Then, in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee (now Sir Tim Berners-Lee) defined two elegant, open, standard protocols to allow computers to exchange rich, structured, linked data: the hypertext transfer protocol (the http at the start of URLs) and the hypertext markup language (html: the code that defines how web pages are displayed and linked together).
Together, http and html enabled the world wide web, and gave rise to the previously unimaginable diversity of today's web.
Note what Tim Berners-Lee didn't do: He didn't build a proprietary platform. Nor did he force everyone else's content to go through a central system. Instead, he enabled millions of people to take complete ownership over their systems. But, crucially, these distributed systems communicate with ease because they speak the same language.
Today, the Energy system is ripe for the development of open standards for sharing data.
We are facing the huge challenge of decarbonizing our electricity grid. The good news is that we're making amazing progress installing renewable generation and batteries, and flexing demand. But these millions of diverse, distributed systems must work together by communicating in the same language. That bad news is that, today, these systems speak wildly different languages, and so it's very hard for these systems to work together.
The Energy Data Taskforce report made a compelling case for why the energy system should share data: it will reduce costs, lower the barrier to entry for innovators, and - the bit that we at Open Climate Fix are most passionate about - help achieve net-zero emissions. And, last Friday, Ofgem announced that they will introduce a new license condition for Presumed Open data, based on the Energy System Catapult's Data Best Practice guidance.
The Centre for Digital Built Britain's National Digital Twin programme is designing a broad framework for describing physical infrastructure using distributed digital representations.
This is all fantastic progress, and makes it clear why we must share energy data, and starts to sketch out how to share data. But we need to get into the details.
What's needed now is for us, as a community, to define elegant, open standards to allow energy systems to share data whilst ensuring security, privacy and legal protection, and rewarding data owners for sharing their data.
For example, we need to decide on how to collaboratively evolve a vocabulary to describe energy assets; how to uniquely identify physical assets; how to express that - for example - only authorised users can access domestic meter data, but everyone can see data from the grid supply point from which that domestic meter is fed. And, crucially, there are many non-technical problems to solve to enable this web of data.
In creating these standards, we must remember that energy companies are already very busy doing a world-class job of keeping the lights on. So any new standard must be as simple to implement as possible. This is a great opportunity to remove complexity that exists only for historical reasons. What's really needed today? How can we make these standards as easy-to-use as possible, whilst significantly improving the system?
We can also make life easier by glueing together existing parts, rather than reinventing the wheel.
If we - as a community - get these standards right then, over the coming years and decades, open standards will transform everything in the energy system including network management; demand-side flexibility at scale; electric vehicle smart charging; energy forecasting; resource planning; decarbonisation of heating; community energy; research; policy; coordination of heat, power and transport; the list goes on.
This is the vision behind Open Energy, the project led by Gavin Starks (previously founding CEO of the Open Data Institute where he worked closely with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and co-chair of the Open Banking Standard) & his Icebreaker Onenon-profit in partnership with PassivSystems (leaders in demand-side flexibility) and Open Climate Fix, and funded by a Modernising Energy Data Access Phase 1grant.
We are holding a series of webinars over the coming weeks to ask for your help - please register here!
And we really do need your help - none of us have been in charge of a control room when the frequency is drifting north; or had to take billion-pound decisions on where to build new infrastructure; or... ; you get the idea! This common language for energy must be laser-focused on solving real problems. We need your help!
Let's get started :)