CleanTech 2.0 Summit Report
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In this episode of our Digital Transformation podcast series, we continue our focus on the risks and opportunities presented by digitisation in a range of industries. This time we turn our attention to the energy industry with our specialists in energy, data and technology considering the latest cutting-edge innovations in the sector.
Our host is Richard Power, specialist in energy law, and in this episode, he explores the role of data collection, analysis, machine learning and the Internet of Things in driving energy efficiency and the transition to Net Zero. He speaks to guests Mark Williamson, Head of the UK Technology, Outsourcing & Data practice, and Tom Tippett, a Legal Director in the same team, about the legal implications of these innovations, with a particular focus on the complex issues around handling vast volumes of data. We hear how organisations need to balance energy efficiency objectives with the regulatory and cyber risks of data collection and analysis before concluding with a look at how existing legislation and business policies must adapt to allow for greater innovation.
With governments around the globe committed to achieving Net Zero by at least 2050, energy efficiency has a critical role to play. But as Power points out, optimising energy usage at an individual level is not easy: “It’s a lot of effort in a busy world to manage your energy consumption. This is where advances in technology, in the fields of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and blockchain can help.” He gives the example of sensors, which can collect information about energy use to feed into algorithms to optimise and automate usage, better balancing supply and demand. But this kind of technology comes with legal consequences: “Just because it’s possible, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to do in a legal or regulatory way,” he says.
Rights and regulations around data are still widely misunderstood, says Tippett, with many businesses still seeing data as an asset they can own, as opposed to something that comes with rights and restrictions. He advises companies to first consider their objectives for using data and then the barriers to achieving those so that they can take the right precautions. “Legally, a number of different things could prevent you from using data in the way you want to. It could be a confidentiality restriction, an intellectual property right or contractual restrictions on the use of data,” he explains.
As the conversation moves on to the issue of cyber security, Williamson outlines two issues. First, data can be politically valuable and, therefore, a target for hackers. Secondly, a growing network of interconnected devices in homes and buildings increases the risk of cyber threats, such as ransomware: “Everything is so connected now that attackers can infiltrate into all sorts of areas of people’s lives. It’s a battle that will be ongoing, and it requires massive investment,” he says.
Will we see legislative changes to spur innovation in the quest for Net Zero? Both guests think it is unlikely. “From a privacy perspective, the [UK] government’s position is very clear,” says Williamson. “You may want to do something with personal data that is innovative and will benefit individuals, but that on its own is not enough.”
Instead, both agree that a shift is needed in how private organisations share data, so that its potential can be maximised while avoiding legal and commercial pitfalls. Tippett mentions the good work being done by the Open Data Institute and the National Infrastructure Commission in promoting good practice, before concluding: “There are so many unrealised benefits, particularly in an infrastructure and environmental context. If we can share data in a controlled and appropriate way, within the laws that exist today, then these benefits can be realised.”