Data sharing and ownership: home truths for utilities

Despite a history of insularity, data sharing is an inevitable reality for utilities. So who is liable for that data? Engerati asks data specialists at OSIsoft for insight. Originally published at Engerati on 17 Apr 2018

Data is at the forefront of many utilities’ minds – collecting data, protecting data, distributing it and monetising it. However, are utilities prepared to share their own operational data?

Between the associated risks to both security and competitive advantages, utilities have historically had plenty of reasons to be hesitant in sharing their operational data. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there may be a business case for it – should it be executed correctly. Unlocking these benefits will be crucial for forward-thinking utilities looking to adapt to the data-driven market.

To better understand the issues surrounding data sharing for utilities, we turned to specialists William McEvoy, Industry Principal Transmission & Distribution / Distributed Energy Resources and David Thomason, Business Development Executive / Industry Principal – Global Power Generation at OSIsoft.

The need for operational data sharing

David Thomason explains the increasing need for operational data.

He says, “We look at the whole ecosphere around power generation as a community. There’s a whole world of information sharing among them – there’s the power generation companies, the regulation companies, your regional operators… but there’s also others to consider. Your suppliers, vendors, generators – there’s a whole supply chain of demand in terms of data.”

“Data sharing between those entities becomes core to how they’re going to operate. More and more as we bring in data from renewables, distributed energy resources, batteries, these will add new characteristics to the market, and will require a huge amount of operational data to ensure they run efficiently,” he continues.

William McEvoy agrees; “one of the biggest risks facing utilities is reliability and impact on the grid from these new disruptive technologies.”

Sharing this data across the supply chain will provide distributors with crucial insight to their performance and position within the market. The difficulty arises if the cost of sharing data – be it through regulatory penalties or losses in competitive markets – outweighs the associated benefits.

Adding to the difficulty will be the attitude shift required from utilities when sharing this data.

McEvoy explains, “it’s a big paradigm shift for utilities who are used to providing reports to regulators just around events or issues. They look at that reporting as penalty reporting. Now, the concern is shifting towards not only what regulators can do with that data, but what competitors can do with it.”

“If you’re in an open, competitive market, that operational information is very confidential,” seconds Thomason.

Thomason sees this as an avoidable risk factor, should the correct preparations be employed. “Not every piece of data at a detailed level will matter, so to make this work there needs to be some sensitivity around segmenting data,” he explains.

Another suggestion is that distributors that submit their data openly receive compensation for the exposition to competitors.

Data sharing ownership – who is liable?

Beyond the need for operational data sharing within utilities is a larger problem – the liability for the data and its security.

“Regardless of what new technology is put on the grid,” explains McEvoy, “the distributors are still responsible for the grid. So then, the more data they share, the more liability they have.”

Thomason believes the industry hasn’t put enough time or effort into how these ideas of data ownership and responsibility come into play.

He continues, “When these utilities send their raw data, external bodies can do advanced pattern recognition, machine learning, design assessment, really massage that data and provide analytics. The problem then becomes who owns this new, refined data.”

The conversation around ownership here is twofold. On the one hand, owning this data renders the utilities, vendors, or analytics companies responsible for it should something go wrong. However, it also gives them a powerful, valuable asset.

Much like with the conversations around blockchain, it appears some serious forethought is needed before full implementation.

Join OSIsoft Group Live Webinar “Transforming IoT Data into Results for Power” on 21 November at 3PM London/10AM New York


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