Promoting data interoperability in the offshore energy sector

Windfarm imageIn September 2021, key departments from the UK central government and the offshore energy industry launched an Offshore Energy Digital and Data Strategy Taskforce with the aim of encouraging digitalisation and data interoperability in the offshore energy sector.  

The taskforce, which concluded in June, produced seven recommendations. Nic Granger, Director of Corporate at North Sea Transition Authority and chair of the taskforce, spoke to Government Transformation about why having the right data foundations is essential for the future of the industry.

Data to achieve the UK’s Net Zero agenda

The UK has set a target of achieving Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. Measures necessary to meet the deadline include the deployment of clean energy, such as offshore wind, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, and reducing emissions across existing energy activities.

Having quality data and developing digital solutions are essential to this mission as they will contribute to a better understanding of the energy system and unlock the potential for energy transition projects that promote a more environmentally sustainable oil and gas industry. Although the energy sector has huge amounts of data, siloed initiatives and systems, as well as lack of unified data principles have been preventing progress.

Last Autumn, the Net Zero Technology Centre, Offshore Energies UK, and the North Sea Transition Authority, the body that regulates and influences the oil, gas and carbon storage industries in the UK and helps drive the North Sea energy transition, brought together a range of participants from central government and industry to create a taskforce with the aim of producing a coherent digital and data strategy spanning oil, gas and renewables, and that will encourage good data uses and digital innovation.

Members of the taskforce included the Crown Estate, Crown Estate Scotland, the Technology Leadership Board, RenewableUK and the Open Data Institute. It was run by Energy Systems Catapult and Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, two independent and not-for-profit knowledge centres that bring together industry, government, academic and research.Nic Granger

“It was an intentionally broad taskforce across the different parts of the offshore energy sector,” says Granger, who chaired the group. “In the past, the oil and gas industry and the offshore wind sector have done a huge amount around data, but we've done less on it together as a wider energy system.“

The taskforce’s recommendations

The taskforce has come up with a series of strategic and workstream recommendations that, if implemented, could help the UK government achieve its environmental agenda. Whereas the strategic recommendations address policy and regulation, tools and infrastructure, and digitalisation, the workstream recommendations represent high-level opportunities to address key issues, containing proposals for projects or initiatives.

The first two strategic recommendations - unifying data principles and delivering a common data toolkit - highlight the importance of data as an asset and the need to establish a single framework that all stakeholders can use to produce quality data. The taskforce said that a common data toolkit would facilitate controlled and automated data sharing across the sector 

Granger explains that in the past, and due to a number of “good reasons”, each part of the public sector was working on data on its own, which has resulted in using different data standards and different best practices because the industry has developed separately. To complicate things even more, standards also vary from country to country.

She adds: “Now we’re at the stage where we need to work together and we should start talking about having the best practice guidance and using the same data standards across those different parts of the industry."

The taskforce also recommended leveraging data assets, noting that the offshore energy sector should increase the utilisation of existing operational and asset data, using the Open Data Triage process mitigation techniques, and standardised data sharing agreements to manage risks.

Coordinating digitalisation efforts could enable efficient investment and capture cross-sector requirements. As part of the recommendation of unifying data principles, the taskforce advises the offshore energy sector to drive the adoption of a ‘Data Best Practice Guidance’ across the sector. 

“We're conscious that there have been good pockets of best practice in all of those different parts [oil and gas, wind sector, etc],” Granger says. “Going forward, working together is the way that we're going to get the greatest value.”

Need for the right skills

Moving away from the taskforce, the next steps involve delivering on the strategy and recommendations. For this, it will be necessary to find the right skills able to achieve it. However, a challenge that the public sector is facing within the offshore energy sector is ensuring that it attracts the right skills needed for digital and data roles.

“The market is very strong at the moment and we need to make sure that we are competitive when bringing people in,” Granger says. 

Granger adds that although many professionals in the public sector do not see themselves as data professionals, data is an essential part of their job when doing analysis and making policy, hence the need for a change in mindset that appreciates the value of data.

“One of the challenges is making sure that everybody understands the importance of data, which is a skill in itself, and they're not jumping to AI or machine learning before they've got the underlying skills for data and dual roles,” she continues.

Granger concludes: “Get the right people in the room. The way that this is going to be successful going forward is making sure we've got the right people who can make decisions, but also understand the technical use of the data and have got the experience of data use.

"So a combination of policy minds and delivery focused features rather than just having a policy focus and then handing it over to a technical delivery team is making sure both are involved from the start.”Government Data Forum

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