Making energy data freely available: The IEA is catching up
by Lorenz Noe, Research Manager, ODW
30 March 2022
Reliable and open energy data are vital to building green economies and mitigating or adapting to climate change. Most recently, the war in Ukraine has underscored the importance of energy data for tracking production and consumption and understanding the impact of the conflict on the global energy economy. But the largest collection of energy data remains locked behind a pay wall.
The International Energy Agency (IEA), originally created in the 1970s to coordinate a global response to oil shocks, is at the center of global conversations around energy policy and is the source of important analyses of energy supply and energy consumption. But until now the agency has not made its data available for public use, opting instead for expensive subscriptions to data products. Open Data Watch was thrilled by the outcome of the recent IEA ministerial meeting that pledged the agency would investigate options for making its data freely available. While it is a step worth celebrating, much work remains. Here we offer recommendations for the IEA as it undertakes this task.
IEA takes a step towards open energy data
Pressure from open data and energy data activists has put open data on the agenda of the IEA. Open Data Watch joined this call last year to express its support for open energy data from the IEA, citing work by Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie of Our World In Data. Roser and Ritchie make two core arguments:
- In the absence of open IEA data, researchers are forced to rely on estimates from BP, which is a problematic source, misses a lot of countries in Africa, and does not have data on final energy, one of the most important data sources for analyzing how energy is used.
- Lack of open energy data, like lack of open data on any topic, can lead to duplication of efforts, inequalities in data access, replication challenges, and more difficult outreach efforts.
Their findings on the availability of data on primary production versus final energy use is reinforced by Open Data Watch’s Open Data Inventory (ODIN), which has consistently found data on energy consumption to be least available from countries compared to information on energy supply. The IEA has an important role to play in closing the global gap on final energy data.
Roser and Ritchie’s call for the IEA to open its data has been taken up by groups working with energy data, such as industry watchdogs and researchers, including the Breakthrough Institute and other energy researchers. This call grew loudest ahead of the IEA’s ministerial meetings in Paris, France on March 23-24. As an organization funded by country contributions, the ministerial meetings allow country representatives to set policies at the IEA, including how to fund the agency. Pressure from countries for the IEA to change its policies is critical to opening IEA data.
Thankfully, the news from the ministerial meetings has been positive: The IEA’s press release at the close of the summit stated that “in response to Executive Director Birol’s call for the IEA to be able to make its energy data freely available, the ministers requested a review of options that will enable this while offsetting the impacts on the Agency’s budget.” In response to Hannah Ritchie’s celebratory post on Twitter, the head of communications at IEA was clear: “This is a big step forward for [the IEA] and we now have our work cut out for us to come up with options and resources to ensure that we can provide free data and increase transparency to the market as part of this new ministerial mandate.”
Delivering on the promise of open energy data
Open Data Watch is excited by the news that the IEA intends to make its data available for free. Yet we know that this process is just beginning and based on the experience of our managing director and director of research when opening up data at the World Bank, hurdles remain.
We ask the ministers involved with the IEA and the management of IEA itself to consider these three recommendations:
- The goal should be to adopt a fully open data policy and make data open by default. Rather than start by carving out enclaves for data to continue to be sold, the assumption must be that all IEA data are open. Adopting a Creative Commons license like CC BY 4.0 for IEA data would satisfy this requirement.
- The world needs these data now and the IEA should set about opening its data as soon as possible. The review undertaken by the IEA will need to identify and put in place revenue replacement, but every year without these data is another year without the ability to make crucial decisions on energy policy.
- The IEA should learn from other organizations who have opened their data. The IEA is unfortunately a late-comer among international organizations on open data, but this also means that many lessons can be learned from efforts like those at the World Bank and most recently, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
We will continue to watch this space and ensure that IEA’s words are backed by actions. We thank everyone involved in these efforts so far and look forward to collaborating on advocacy and advice on this important undertaking.