Exploring Open Energy Data in Urban Areas

June 3, 2015


Ngong Wind Farm, outside Nairobi

Fredrick Leica for IBM Research - Africa

Story Highlights
  • Cities are home to half of the world’s population, and are responsible for more than two-thirds of global energy use – as urban population continues to surge, so will energy consumption and carbon emissions
  • Open Data can increase transparency and help achieve local economic goals – the energy sector stands to gain a lot from embracing Open Data principles
  • To address this data gap in emerging and developing countries, the World Bank is conducting a series of Open Energy Data Assessments in urban areas, starting with Accra, Ghana and Nairobi, Kenya

What do IBM Research-Africa and Accra Metropolitan Assembly have in common with Kenya Power and UN-Habitat? Answer: they’re all Open Energy Data stakeholders that have contributed to recent Open Energy Data assessments in Nairobi and Accra, two rapidly growing cities.

Cities are home to half of the world’s population, and are responsible for more than two-thirds of global energy use. By 2050, the population living in cities is expected to reach nearly 70 percent, and energy consumption and related carbon emissions are expected to rise accordingly. As a result of these realities, securing access to reliable and affordable electricity in the biggest and fastest-growing cities is an important cornerstone of a sustainable future.

Energy efficiency – using less energy input to deliver the same level of service – has been described by many as the ‘first fuel’ of our societies. However, lack of adequate data to accurately predict and measure energy efficiency savings, particularly at the city level, has limited the realization of its promise over the past two decades.

Why Open Energy Data?

Open Data can be a powerful tool to reduce information asymmetry in markets, increase transparency and help achieve local economic development goals. Several sectors like transport, public sector management and agriculture have started to benefit from Open Data practices. Energy markets are often characterized by less-than-optimal conditions with high system inefficiencies, misaligned incentives and low levels of transparency. As such, the sector has a lot to potentially gain from embracing Open Data principles.  

The United States is a leader in this field with its ‘Energy Data’ initiative. This initiative makes data easy to find, understand and apply, helping to fuel a clean energy economy. For example, the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) open application programming interface (API) has more than 1.2 million time series of data and is frequently visited by users from the private sector, civil society and media. In addition, the Green Button  initiative is empowering American citizens to have access to their own energy usage data, and OpenEI.org is an Open Energy Information platform to help people find energy information, share their knowledge and connect to other energy stakeholders.

Introducing the Open Energy Data Assessment

To address this data gap in emerging and developing countries, the World Bank is conducting a series of Open Energy Data Assessments in urban areas. The objective is to identify important energy-related data, raise awareness of the benefits of Open Data principles and improve the flow of data between traditional energy stakeholders and others interested in the sector.

The first cities we assessed were Accra, Ghana and Nairobi, Kenya. Both are among the fastest-growing cities in the world, with dynamic entrepreneurial and technology sectors, and both are capitals of countries with an ongoing National Open Data Initiative., The two cities have also been selected to be part of the Negawatt Challenge, a World Bank international competition supporting technology innovation to solve local energy challenges.

The ecosystem approach

The starting point for the exercise was to consider the urban energy sector as an ecosystem, comprised of data suppliers, data users, key datasets, a legal framework, funding mechanisms, and ICT infrastructure. The methodology that we used adapted the established World Bank Open Data Readiness Assessment (ODRA), which highlights valuable connections between data suppliers and data demand.  The assessment showcases how to match pressing urban challenges with the opportunity to release and use data to address them, creating a longer-term commitment to the process. Mobilizing key stakeholders to provide quick, tangible results is also key to this approach.

How can Open Energy Data help Nairobi and Accra?

For the past seven years, Ghana has been struggling with significant energy sector challenges, plaguing its capital with scheduled daily blackouts of up to 24 hours, as well as rising electricity prices.

Citizens in Accra constantly lament the lack of access to information about timing and geographical coverage of these blackouts as a serious impediment to well-being. To address this problem and increase public awareness of potential solutions, the Ghana Energy Commission decided to build a database to capture information around energy expansion plans in Ghana. This database will provide all energy stakeholders with a reliable baseline on energy production, transmission and distribution.  

" Open Data in the energy sector of Ghana is critical for the efficient and transparent management of the country’s energy resources. Benefits could include better management of consumer expectation; a reduction of pressure on the national grid as more and more enlightened, middle-to-high level income earners switches to alternative energy sources; and greater participation and ownership in the implementation of government’s energy policy objectives. "

Ethel Mensah

Ghana Energy Commission

Useful data for the energy sector include datasets beyond core energy data. Important inputs for anyone that is designing or planning energy efficiency projects or offering alternatives to grid connection include basic maps, cadastral data, waste infrastructure data, air pollution data, and building energy consumption data. In Ghana’s capital, these data are presently held by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly. Releasing the data on the Open Data portal would enable much broader access to the public and allow private sector actors to better design their offerings for the market.

In a related project, IBM Research-Africa is developing a software application to model rural electrification strategies and predict potential economic and social benefits. This decision-making tool could be of great help for local governments and donors to decide which villages to prioritize, and then identify the best methods for connecting them. The effectiveness of IBM's application clearly depends on the availability of data. By opening up energy and socio-economic data, local governments can help to ensure higher quality, better designed and ultimately more successful rural electrification projects.

Who could benefit from Open Energy Data?

From geospatial services to housing industry, there is now documented evidence of the economic potential of Open Data, and the energy sector could be among the principal industry to benefit. For example, a World Bank report estimated a US$1.6 trillion market opportunity for small and medium Cleantech enterprises in developing countries. Together with access to finance, data is one of the main inputs potential entrepreneurs and private sector actors are looking for to realize this economic growth opportunity.

Adopting Open Data principles is not only about sharing data more openly across institutions – it is equally beneficial to improve internal data sharing within organizations. In Ghana, a surprising finding was that some essential energy datasets were confined to operational departments or certain organizations, without direct easy access for other corporate units.  

Development partners also have a role to play, It is important for consider how data generated from development projects be stored, managed and shared.

Help us draft the Open Energy Data Assessment methodology

Open Energy Data Assessments in Accra and Nairobi are works in progress. Apart from the cities assessment, one of the main outcomes will be the methodology itself, including a list of key datasets ready for release. We would welcome your thoughts on the methodology and by identifying which high-value datasets you consider essential for tackling energy efficiency and sustainability at the urban level. A list of key datasets is available for comments and suggestions here.

Furthermore, all datasets surfaced and assessed during the Open Energy Data Assessment will be listed on the Negawatt Challenge data catalog.


Several organizations and individuals contributed to this pioneering Open Energy Data effort. The World Bank team wishes to thank everyone that supported the work, either by providing valuable contacts, sharing data, expressing data demands or in other ways helped us to develop the methodology or facilitated data use for the Negawatt Challenge participants. Funding from the Korean Green Growth Trust Fund enables Negawatt Challenge work in Africa and funding from Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building supports the development of the Open Energy Data methodology. In Ghana and Kenya we’d like to specifically thank: Accra Metropolitan Assembly, Ghana Energy Commission, SNV, IBM Research Africa, Kenya Energy Building Council, Kenya Power, and UN-Habitat.

What is Open Data?

Data is considered to be “open” if anyone can freely use, reuse and redistribute it, for any purpose, without restrictions. To be considered “open,” the data must be re-usable, meaning it can be downloaded in open format and read by software, and users have a legal right to reuse the data.

To learn more, visit the World Bank Open Government Data Toolkit.