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DFES - Interview with Mary Black

Mary Black, Senior System Planning Engineer at Northern Powergrid

What has the internal reaction been like to the DFES work?

People have loved it. People have realised that it has closed a gap where we needed to show local authorities what their projections were in their own patch for different energy parameters. And it's an easy way to do it - it's very intuitive, and people love seeing our data visualised. They've recognised that it's a very powerful tool for starting a discussion with somebody. We actually had an internal engagement session [colleague briefing], lots of people attended. Whatever part of the business you work in, you can use this tool to look at the area you're discussing, whether people are asking about connections, whether it's a scheme you're designing, etc.

It has also got people thinking about how much energy is going to change in the future. The way that some parameters grow is staggering. You use the visualisation and see that there are going to be thousands and thousands of electric vehicles. What does this mean for the network, for me and my job as an engineer.

And what about external reaction? Such as other DNO's, industry bodies, etc?

A FES worker at National Grid fed back that they found it "easy to use and understand, very visual and brings forecasts to life." Industry peers have told us we've done a really good job with it, and that it is a useful tool. I have just this week been showing the tool at an EV workshop to people in local authorities and to the people who install electric charging points, people from energy consultancies, and they're just loving being able to interact with the tool. It prompts questions. It's exactly the information they need to make their own plans.

Have you noticed any changes (internally) to data practice since working on this first stage of DFES?

I think there is an increased consciousness that we want to visualise and share this data. So it forces you to think about what data could and should be shared. And I guess one of the changes is, in the past, people would ring me all the time asking me to send them projections but now I can just send them a link! Also internally, it has encouraged even more interest in open data. We had already started the shift to open data by becoming a sponsor of ODI Leeds, and we've done it now, we've published this data openly.

The DFES work is interesting because (to my knowledge at least) this is the first time that this data has been visualised and the first time that a data standard has been attempted. As with anything that is brand new, there is always a little bit of fear of making/finding mistakes. How was this handled internally?

Generally welcome. Some people saw the blog about substation post code data and were nervous about whether we were exposing ourselves by publishing this data. But we pointed out that a big benefit of open data is the contribution and corrections that other people can make. Open data gets better over time. People can find gaps in the data in their area, tell us about it, I can then try to understand more about those gaps.

So I do think people are cautious but by-and-large people think it's a breath of fresh air. If more people would make data accessible and available, it would make our lives a lot easier. A big message I've had back during my EV workshop today has been we need to start planning together more. When we mention standards, we have had standards in the industry - we have templates that we use nationally across energy companies. We haven't had a standardised template to share outside the industry. Although we haven't got that yet, we are sharing the data in the terms of the kind of building blocks that National Grid (and other DNO's) are using. We want to start asking LAs to join in. If we can speak that common language (open data), we can work more together.

After the release of the DFES in December 2019, thoughts have turned to the next step, which are these stakeholder engagement sessions in March. What would be your ideal outcomes from these sessions?

For people to go back to their office, open the tool, download the data, and engage with it. The point of the workshops is to signpost people to the tool and demonstrate how easy it is to access the data. And to then give us some feedback about their own plans for future energy. That's the info we really need, because there's a lot of uncertainty about the future at the moment, and unevenness. There are different targets and ambitions in different parts of the region, and we want to make sure the network can cope with the energy needs in our region. We need to understand what people are doing and planning. It's not just us interested in this data - National Grid wants to know how to meet demand too. The key thing at the workshop will be to signpost people to data and tool, and explain it in a way that people can then go back and interact with it.

What advice would you give to other DNO's or local authorities/similar organisations who want to publish data openly?

Take the plunge! Speak to your local ODI node, have a discussion with them. Conduct a trial release - any set of data that you think would be useful to share with people. Start with that first, see what the reaction is, and take it from there. Then start thinking about what other datasets you can add. You have lots to gain, that outweigh any fears about publishing data.