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Govt commits to digital spine and consumer dashboard in energy digitalisation drive

"We recognise more work is needed from BEIS, Ofgem, and industry."

The slow march towards energy digitalisation took another step forward, as BEIS, Ofgem and Innovate UK announced their official response to the UK Energy Digitalisation Taskforce’s recommendations.

Amidst the earnest language recognising the urgent need to digitalise the UK’s lagging energy sector, there were few solid commitments following through on the recommendations – though some of the most critical points are covered. But as Doug Cook, deputy director for digitalisation and decentralisation at Ofgem, noted, “getting commitments in the current environment is hard”.

Cook is one of the named authors of the government’s response, and as he previously told The Stack, has been building a team of data scientists at Ofgem since last year. As our recent feature on UK energy digitalisation made clear, everyone in the sector recognises the need for change – but much relies on the actions of government to kickstart the process.

See: The energy sector’s digital transformation and data blockers

As such, BEIS’s commitment to “examine the opportunities, risks and potential architectures” of a “digital spine” and how it will work with a data sharing fabric, is a welcome step. As the taskforce’s report noted, a publicly owned layer of infrastructure allowing different elements within the energy sector to exchange data is a vital element of digitalisation.

Another key recommendation from the taskforce is the creation of a “consumer consent dashboard” – with consumer-level data a key element of moving towards demand-side response, rather than the current supply-side focus. BEIS also committed to “explore opportunities to further examine development” of a dashboard, which, while several steps away from actually developing one, is a start.

Ofgem also committed to include digital governance and carbon monitoring in its stakeholder workshops between now and September, but the announcement noted these elements depend on other work. BEIS, Ofgem and Innovate UK all committed to working towards a “digitalisation culture” – which while somewhat nebulous, will be a critical element in getting digitalisation to work in the energy sector.

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“We agree that without concerted action from BEIS, Ofgem, Innovate UK and industry … we risk increased industry costs, delay to the transition to a net zero energy system and limits to the choices for consumers to use their devices and data,” said Cook, BEIS director of energy systems and networks Emily Bourne, and Innovate UK’s challenge director Rob Saunders.

“Whilst progress has been made, we recognise that more work is needed from BEIS, Ofgem, and industry to make an effective, secure, digitalised energy system a reality. We will build on the momentum generated from the Taskforce, and target specific priority areas for immediate focus,” they added.

Along with the limited new commitments, the government bodies also highlighted the work which is already underway. This includes Ofgem’s work on a Common Information Model for data exchange, and the Flexibility Innovation Programme, which is funding competitions for projects around smart meters, IoT, demand-side response and automatic asset registration.

BEIS also noted it has already agreed to take on regulation of smart appliances, and will continue work on that.

Those involved in the UK Energy Digitalisation Taskforce welcomed the government announcement, with the Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) describing it as a “very welcome response” which “shows how current and new work meets the recommendations made in the report.”

Laura Sandys, chair of the taskforce, said: “So pleased Digitalisation Taskforce has got such a strong endorsement from [BEIS, Ofgem and Innovate UK] - looking forward to seeing deep digitalisation of energy system emerging soon!”

Richard Dobson, head of digital and data at the ESC, said on LinkedIn: “Such a lot of progress has been made already and some exciting new things in the pipeline. Looking forward to helping push things along together!”