Data and AI is key to supporting sector through the energy transition

The sudden requirement to work from home and therefore access data remotely has thrown many companies headfirst into digitalisation, whether they felt ready for it or not. What was perceived as a mammoth challenge, pre-coronavirus, was achieved by thousands of UK businesses, no matter their scale, policies and system, in a few short weeks. This dramatic shift in working culture and practice, often feared by companies previously, has not been as daunting as many would have anticipated.

The apprehension around embracing digitalisation, data and AI in the energy sector is mirrored in the industry’s approach to the energy transition. Companies face tough decisions as they start to seriously consider new and sustainable business models. These two big challenges: digitalisation and net-zero targets require fundamental shifts in culture and working practices.

COVID19, coupled with the collapse in oil price, is taking its toll on an industry which was just beginning to recover from one of the worst and longest downturns in its history. It‘s understandable that, in these precarious and uncertain times, companies may be averse to exploring unchartered territory like data analysis. But, now is the time to embrace data and digitalisation because they can underpin major change towards a more sustainable and efficient business model.

Effectively gathered and interpreted data has the power to drive companies through these challenging times by lifting the fog of uncertainty and apprehension. It can de-risk decisions, validate business cases and predict what the next steps should be.

Approaching the intelligent use and analysis of digital data can be like climbing Everest. Companies don’t know where to start, what to expect or what tools are needed. In reality, it’s more like ‘bagging munros’ – start small and build up to larger and more advanced peaks.

Embarking on the data journey is the hardest part and, for the first time, it’s true to say that, as a result of the coronavirus-imposed lock-down, the entire industry has now left the starting line.

Many companies were far more ready for this rapid shift than they ever expected, and the sector has made more progress in digitalisation in the last two months than it has in the last five years. It’s crucial this wave of momentum is allowed to gather pace.

With cost-cutting, down-sizing and restructuring going on across the industry, it’s vital that data is seen as a valuable toll to increasing efficiency and guiding decision-making. It doesn’t have to mean starting from scratch by investing in an internal data analysis team either.

As experts in data innovation, The Data Lab’s business advisory service – TORCH – can help organisations to implement tailored services and projects from the ground up, ensuring that they deliver value. TORCH links businesses, who are starting to use data, with expert partners and advisors in academia and industry to overcome the key challenges when exploring new data projects.

The energy sector has a culture of sharing knowledge and best practice, and its approach to embracing data should be no different. Learning from a shared expert resource could give every business access to the powerful insights data can bring and how it can steer them on their energy transition journey.

Authored by Cameron Gordon at The DataLab