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Data Ownership and Global Heating

Luis de la Riva and James Kingston explore the link between user-owned data and renewable energy solutions

Analogue identification systems that now also exist in a digital format (e.g., your passport, your banking records) can replace traditional systems and work as a force for good. However, as the Good ID manifesto reminds us, without careful stewardship, digital identification systems can also be a means of exclusion, surveillance, and control.

In this digital world, it can be challenging to strike a balance between the benefits of accessing personalized offers and services and the costs (such as the impact on their privacy) for individuals to disclose their personal data on the internet.

How are governments, companies and internet users expected to deal with these contradictions? On the one hand, data scandals by some of the largest companies in the world have resulted in international investigations and millions of users being affected by the misuse of their personal data. On the other hand, companies are facing their own challenges when dealing with data: it is known that sweeping privacy regulations can lead to significant barriers to entry for firms without access to consumer data, costly mandatory opt-in privacy policies and less product innovations due to the fear of possible legal reprisals following the collection or processing of consumers’ data; all these result in opportunity costs and inefficiencies that arise when valuable information is not disclosed.

In such a complex scenario, it is possible to design a model that is ‘ethical by design’

Users could acquire legal ownership over their personal data by owning cloud-based accounts that provide full agency over which third parties can access their data.

This new model of the data economy - which we have defined as the Data Economy 2.0 - is hugely promising, because it can have applications in all sectors of our society. All sorts of data - credit scores, job assessment tests, academic credentials, etc. - could be stored in these personal folders, and they could be shared, transferred, transformed, and handled ethically, using equitable first-party contracts for sharing and usage.

The particular case of global heating and DEDO

A particular use case in demand for urgent solutions is global warming, more correctly referred to as global heating, according to Professor Richard Betts. We know that emissions are a cause of climate change and that the substitution of coal, oil, and gas for alternatives such as solar and wind energies could help mitigate the effects of global heating.

We are increasingly aware of the potential benefits that the Data Economy 2.0. could have for the energy sector. In a market where energy users - either people or organizations - legally owned their decentralized energy data, the energy sector landscape could be redefined in such a way that all innovative market players could benefit. ‘Prosumers’ could gain market value from their energy use data; tech-savvy utilities could extract more value from energy data and facilitate easier switching between energy providers (e.g. by enabling users to own an ‘energy passport’ that tracked their energy habits); SMEs would have an easier way to track their low carbon compliance and to hire ‘energy-as-a-service’ solutions; and, for manufacturers of smart meters, decentralized energy data ownership could make it easier to integrate data when sending it to the in-home display and the energy supplier.

To further explore these ideas, we embarked on a global, remote hackathon, Hack from Home, which gave 400 participants from 42 countries the chance to generate innovations that ethically leveraged personal data in the fight against global heating.

After two intense days of remote competition, eight innovative projects were submitted, and a winner was chosen. Free Range Energy designed a project of community, user-owned data trusts run by local cooperatives who would produce, exchange, and consume renewable electricity. These cooperatives would be made up of networks of individual producers who would contribute their excess energy for a share of profits. In addition, these cooperatives would take advantage of fluctuating energy supply and demand by storing members’ energy in lithium ion batteries.

This is just one example of the applications that user-owned data could have in the renewable energy sector. The success of this event has led to a long-term research project that will explore other ways in which decentralized energy data ownership (DEDO) can redefine the energy sector and help fight global heating with ethical data.

We’ll make sure to keep you updated about the progress of our DEDO research. Stay tuned!