In a couple of weeks, we will host the much-awaited annual CGI Central Market Debate. Now in its eighth year, the event brings together global energy experts and influencers to debate and discuss the future of central market operations. One topic that has consistently cropped up in previous editions is the role and function of data exchanges. This year’s debate theme, “How can data exchanges between market participants extend and enhance the market and its operation to benefit consumers?” brings this pressing issue to the fore.
As the event draws closer, it is interesting to see how data exchanges in utilities are changing purpose following the liberalization of the energy market. Currently, data exchanges are primarily focused on one of these two aspects:
IT cost reductions through standardized message exchanges (first generation, often referred to as message hubs)
Centralization of market services such as contract administration, metering data distribution and volume settlement, which are administrative functions with daily or monthly processing cycles (second generation or datahubs)
With a number of energy transition-led changes imminent in the utilities industry, these datahubs are poised for a significant upgrade. Their evolution will be driven by both the volumes of data to be processed and the near real-time nature of the processes to be supported. Operators need to address this challenge and determine the right strategy in moving forward with data exchanges. In fact, the findings of the 2018 CGI Client Global Insights reveal that the importance of delivering the benefits of big data and business insight is growing in the utilities industry. However, 67% of the utilities executives we interviewed identify data management and data quality as one of the top barriers to digital transformation.
Data exchanges need to evolve…fast
The energy transition is transforming the way data is exchanged between incumbent market participants as well as new market participants. In many ways, the market participants are still investigating how these exchanges can best be implemented to support distributed energy resources and the increase in both local consumption and production. Even though local energy production can simply be added to the grid, to maintain grid balance, new strategies to effectively balance production and consumption will be needed. Whether these strategies include local initiatives, such as energy communities and energy islands, or commercial forms of aggregation, they will need to include new market participants in the exchange of information.
Similarly, intermittent but high consumption, such as that of electric vehicles (EVs), will require additional management of this consumption. This can be achieved by spreading out the charging of EVs over time to avoid overloading local networks. However, this requires information to be exchanged between network operators, suppliers, aggregators and balance responsible parties (BRPs). On top of this, information granularity has also advanced. For instance, meter readings used to be collected at 24-hour intervals; now they are collected at 15-minute, 5-minute and sometimes even shorter timeframes.
Moving forward in a liberalized market
The question for market operators will be whether to extend the current second-generation datahubs or to create new, but connected data exchanges. If it is the latter, these data exchanges will still need the information that is already present in existing datahubs. It is important to note that datahubs already have the capability to support important future functions such as flexibility registers, metering and settlement processes.
For established markets with existing datahubs, the investments have been significant, not just for the operator but for the market as a whole. These markets should look at leveraging the existing datahubs and enhancing them with real-time services. This will limit disruption to the market and extend the useful life of the investment. Markets without datahubs in place or where the useful life of the existing datahubs is coming to an end, should look at investing in strategies and products that can support the future need for high-volume, near real-time data exchange.
I have no doubt that the 2019 Central Market Debate will once again spark thought-provoking dialogue on how seamless data exchanges can support not just the free flow of renewable energy but also help to accelerate innovation. I look forward to sharing our insights and takeaways from the debate. In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with any comments or questions that you may have.