What kind of data the energy sector needs: a discussion between controllers and users about open data

How changes in the method of publishing the energy sector’s open data affect the perception of reality by journalists and the public at large, and what steps the government is going to take in this regard – these were the topics addressed by representatives of the government, civil society and mass media during the online discussion “(Un)open data in the energy sector”, held on 16 February by DiXi Group and OpenUp Ukraine community.

Deputy Energy Minister Farid Safarov presented the Energy Ministry’s plans of ensuring the accessibility, quality, and timeliness of data and new services for users. The Energy Ministry is currently developing two open data-related projects: Energy User’s Account (e-consumer) and a petroleum products quality and safety monitoring system.

At the beginning of discussion, Mr. Safarov pointed out that both the state and the society will benefit from the increasing quantity of open data. “On the one hand, by publishing this data we reduce the number of inquiries with public bodies. On the other hand, civil society will receive instruments of controlling the transparency of many processes,” the Deputy Minister said.

Public access to data will help the government pay attention to the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of various processes. “My task is to make sure that open data in the energy sector has social significance and is used,” Farid Safarov emphasised.

NEURC member Oleksandr Formahei spoke about the importance of open data in the energy sector and the regulatory authority’s capability to ensure public accessibility of data concerning performance indicators of licensees.

“The energy regulator is consistently working with USAID projects for the purpose of opening data on its website, publishing registers of licensees in a machine-readable format with the help from DiXi Group,” the NEURC member said. “We have submitted for approval the changes in the licensing terms for electricity market operators, which require them to publish open data itemised by certain categories. The licensing terms are a regulatory document. We invite all parties concerned to discuss it… Open data enables the society to grow faster and enhance public control over the spheres of social significance,” Mr. Formahei said during his speech. He also spoke in favor of the idea of “e-consumer” account as regards the implementation of this model between electricity consumers and market participants.

Analysts and journalists addressed the issue of existing restrictions on access to information in the energy sector, using concrete situations as examples. In particular, they discussed the Energy Ministry’s restriction on access to the primary daily data concerning the stocks and consumption of coal by thermal power plants, the significant change by Ukrenergo of daily archive data concerning coal stocks itemised by coal grades, the impossibility to use primary data from Naftogaz’s and Gas TSO Ukraine’s analytical panels, and the unavailability of open access to certain data on the open data portal.

“Open data is not just some information casually posted on a website; it is data presented in a format that allows for its automated processing. It means that tables in the .pdf format are not open data,” Andrii Bilous, Open Data Manager at DiXi Group, pointed out during his speech. The majority of controllers do publish their data, but not always in a machine-readable format and not always up-to-date, and therefore, it is not that easy for users to use this data, he said.

For example: at first, the Energy Ministry was publishing data concerning coal stocks at thermal power and cogeneration plants in the form of tables; later on, this data was transformed into the .pdf format, and eventually, it became pictures. It rendered all but impossible access to this data during the period when the demand for it was the highest.

“Using this heating season as an example, I strongly believe that information controllers have long been aware of the problem with coal stocks at thermal power and cogeneration plants. However, this problem caused a public resonance only when 20 power generating units at thermal power plants were shut down because of the shortage of coal,” Andrii Bilous reminded. “Publication of data concerning coal accumulation plans and actual coal stocks would have been an additional safeguard against the repetition of this kind of failures to keep sufficient stocks in order to smoothly go through the winter period.”

The expert stressed the importance of information disclosure and cited a list of data that remains publicly inaccessible. In the gas sector, for example, the following data concerning the heating season is unavailable:

– monthly natural gas consumption volumes by consumer categories;

– daily volumes of gas in underground storage reservoirs, owned by state enterprises;

– actual monthly/quarterly losses of natural gas in trunk and distribution networks.

Andrii Bilous commented on the situation with data of major controllers and provided recommendations to each of them on how to improve the publication of this data. In general, everyone should provide notices explaining the reasons for making changes in the previously published data. It is also important to post brief explanatory notes to datasets concerning their specifics and limitations. It would significantly increase the level of trust in data.

“We have agreed to continue working with information controllers, which is already an achievement. My colleagues said that they are ready to accept proposals, which is also a pleasant signal. The Energy Ministry’s and the energy regulator’s data opening plans are inspiring as well,” DiXi Group Research Director Roman Nitsovych said when summarising the discussion. In his opinion, information about the actual state of affairs can be conveyed this way to all stakeholders, and therefore, data can be of use both for the country and for the sector on the whole.

Watch the video of this event

The event was held within the framework of the RAPID project implemented with the support from the Press, Education and Culture Office of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine in the partnership with American Councils and the Open World Ukraine program, and also, in the partnership with USAID Energy Sector Transparency project implemented by DiXi Group NGO.

Source: DiXi Group