Martin Hiller at WFES: opening and cross-linking data is essential to clean energy transformation

17-01-2013, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

In a panel discussion at World Future Energy Summit on "How Technology and Innovation Will Shape the Future," REEEP’s Director General Martin Hiller made the case that opening up and linking data can be the key to unleashing the clean energy transformation. His speech is reprised below.

Martin Hiller and Harish Hande at WFES 2013

Rapid transformation: the mobile phone example

We need a rapid transformation of the energy market to clean energy.  But how can rapid transformation actually happen?

One example to learn from is the ascent of mobile phones: 30 years ago these were chunky boxes in the cars of the richest people. Not even James Bond could dream of a smart phone.  At that time, if someone had proposed the total investment needed to make sure every second person on the planet would own a mobile phone, he would have looked ridiculous.

What is important is that it was not the traditional phone companies but market outsiders that created the break-through. It may well be the same with the energy transformation. Traditional energy companies will not - maybe cannot - be interested in change.  We need other players to come in.

How can we make this happen?  At REEEP, we think that one absolutely essential component is the free availability of information.  Put in a simple way, information consists of data – facts and figures – and this is the essential ingredient for knowledge, insight and understanding.

A lot of data already exist for the energy market. But there are two drawbacks:

  • obtaining the data can be expensive
  • too often data are separate from each other, in different databases or different silos

But if we can free up energy information, make it available and accessible, then this can stimulate the energy market and allow new entrants.  This is essential if we are to fundamentally re-think energy from a supply-dominated model to an energy-service model.

There are two innovations that play a role here, and the good news is that both are already happening.  

Open Government Data: public information made accessible

The first one is in the true and positive sense political: it is about opening up government-owned data.

Open Government Data proclaims that, in principle, all data that are established with public money should be published openly and be re-usable for free.  This is a government movement, started by the US and the UK about 4 years ago, and is organised about a pledge by governments, called the Open Government Partnership.

This Partnership initially involved mostly OECD countries, and reached 50 members a year ago. And meanwhile, other countries have also started to come on board: Brazil, Indonesia for example, and Kenya and Ghana as the first two African countries.  Institutions such as the World Bank and the European Commission are also part of the game.

This is not sector-specific only but a broad opening up of data. Governments do this because they realize that they get only (economic) value out of data if these are being used; and the market is better to find new applications.

Linked Open Data: cross-linking the silos

The second innovation is addressing the confusing mass of data that exist.  There is a new development in the internet world that will revolutionize the way how we manage data.  Some of you may remember the time when the worldwide web started, when hyperlinks were invented that could link any webpage to any other webpage.  This completely upset sequential hierarchies.  

Now a new framework has been introduced that is called Linked Open Data.  This framework essentially allows to ‘hyperlink’ individual data – facts and/or figures – across any boundaries of web sites, web portals, or data bases. It allows linking the silos.

This new tool will lead to creating new meaningful information out of data from many sources.  Check for an example the country profiles on the web portal which we manage.


Taken together, opening up government data and the new technology framework of Linked Open Data will create a tremendous wealth of new information and meaning.  For the energy transformation, they can set the stage for a much more vibrant energy market with much more space for energy innovation.  Thank you.