Partnering to help power the world and protect the planet using data

The energy sector has been tasked with a simple mission: power the world and protect the planet. 

Of course, achieving it will be anything but simple. The ability to access and analyze massive amounts of data will be required. 

This is one of the reasons why we’re so excited to bring National Grid Venture on board as a strategic investor in our recent Series D funding round

With the US rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and global leaders at the recent G7 summit reaffirming their goal to limit global warming to 1.5C and agreeing to protect and restore 30% of the natural world by 2030, the energy sector has a big role to play. It will have to undergo a big revamp in the next 10 or 15 years to meet emission reduction goals. One of the biggest challenges that must be overcome to do that is getting real time data to the business to make informed decisions.

Companies in the energy sector are already struggling with data-related challenges similar to those in other industries–responding quickly to changes in consumer demand; the need to optimize supply chain and logistics; and to be able to shift to alternate supply chains in response to external events. In the energy industry, those include things like armed conflict; extreme weather conditions; or freak accidents, such as the recent incident with an oil tanker getting stuck in the Suez Canal. The impacts of unforeseen events like these ripple through the entire ecosystem, causing incredible disruption and sometimes two to five percent margin swings. Being able to take the right actions swiftly is paramount.

It’s complicated

This is all complicated by the fact that by and large the industry is operating on legacy IT infrastructure, including a lot of proprietary systems maintained by the big systems integrators, and a very fragmented array of applications. There is layer upon layer of complexity, and because many energy companies are massive, highly regulated and/or government owned, it takes a long time to get IT modernization projects done. There are a lot more checks and balances that they have to go through. 

This makes it exceptionally difficult to pull together data for analysis. 

What Incorta can do is help organizations gain very rapid, secure access to a plethora of different application data sources and data archives and bring them into one common view for making informed decisions. They don’t have to wait for an IT transformation to take place. 

There is a virtually endless number of energy sector use cases that require pulling together massive amounts of data for analysis.

Right now we’re working with a customer on P&L management by uncovering opportunities for new efficiencies in their raw materials supply chain, production operations, and distribution of energy to the consumer market. That involves taking in data from a vast number of data sources and bringing in it into a 360 view to make informed decisions upon.

Optimizing logistics is another prevalent use case we’re seeing. For example, an oil tanker probably has a capacity of a million square feet of storage space. If you can be very efficient in how you load, pack and sail that ship to the various ports where you distribute, you can save huge amounts of money on your supply chain. Could you ship in smaller chunks, or with a different type of infrastructure? These are some of the questions companies are asking themselves, and the answers are in the data.

Data analytics can also be used to help prevent outages and system failures; to improve the customer experience, and for dynamic energy management. 

Sharing data globally

That’s just within individual companies. Looking at the bigger picture, meeting global emissions goals requires the sharing of data from disparate sources on a much larger scale–from different companies, jurisdictions, legal entities, states, counties–in a central repository to answer questions such as, why are emissions worse in one US state than another? And how can we help reduce that? How can we right size energy delivery across state or country lines so there are no shortages or excesses? 

Ideally you’d have California talking to Florida, and the UK talking to Germany and sharing data. But for the most part, that sort of data resides in multiple different silos where you can’t get at it unless you’re running a particular operating system. That leaves us with lots of operators, each with their own way of doing things and believing they’ve got the right approach. It’s very localized at a time when we need to be thinking globally. To solve really big problems, we have to be able to share data.

Using data to solve big problems

The energy sector is helping to solve some of the biggest, existential problems out there. There’s some reluctance to share data in countries where energy companies are privatized. But with governments owning a good deal of the global energy infrastructure, and working together to meet climate goals by using energy more efficiently and ultimately shifting to renewables, there should be fewer institutional obstacles to sharing data for the common good. Tools such as Incorta are removing the technology barriers.

When we think about investments for modernizing and greening the energy sector, we tend to think of renewable fuel sources, sustainable power infrastructure, and energy efficiency plays–not data infrastructure. But getting access to and being able to combine and share massive amounts of data is absolutely critical to the industry’s mission to power the world and protect the planet. We’re excited to have National Grid as a strategic investor and partner to help us play our part.

Richard Biss is Director, Sales Operations Europe and Africa at Incorta. He also is affiliated with the UK’s government committee for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Technologies, which advises on the adoption of AI and artificial intelligence across industries including the energy industry.