'We're opening up our data': This power firm is letting anyone plug into its figures

Offering open-use terms, near real-time access, and APIs, Finland's electricity grid operator says it's the first European country to open up national electricity data.

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Fingrid is opening up about 100 datasets containing information on consumption, heat demand, solar power generation, and electricity transmissions between Finland and Russia.

Image: Otto Wiikari/Fingrid Oyj

Power-grid operators don't just ensure we have electricity to charge our smartphones when we need it, they also gather vast amounts of data along the way.

Now Fingrid, the Finnish national electricity grid operator, has opened up this data in machine-readable format for anyone to access. The company describes itself as the first grid operator in Europe to open up its data to this extent.

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"There've been all sorts of transparent platforms and historical data available. But the combination of offering open data with open-use terms in real time and through application programming interfaces [APIs], that is rare," Antti Aarnio, ICT manager at Fingrid, tells ZDNet. "No other [service like this] is found in Europe."

The Open Data service taps into Fingrid's data sources to generate about 100 datasets of information, ranging from electricity consumption, heat demand, and solar power generation, to electricity transmissions between Finland and Russia.

The datasets cover both historical and near real-time data, such as an update on the state of the Finnish power grid every three minutes, which third-party developers can register to access through APIs.

Fingrid says it wants the electricity market to be as efficient as possible, so open data ensures all players have equal access to relevant information. The grid operator has developed its own mobile apps and visualization in the past, but now the company hopes to see third parties come up with new uses for its data.

Because the service has only just opened up for business, Aarnio says it is too early for real-world use cases for the data but so far the greatest interest has come from people involved in application development and research.

Power grids can make an inviting target for cyberattacks. Ukraine suffered from power cuts following a 2015 cyberattack, and the US Energy Department has warned the nation's grid is in "imminent danger". But Fingrid is not concerned when it comes to open data.

Aarnio admits someone could have malicious intents but says security risks are still very small. The open data service is separate from all Fingrid's other systems and is limited to anonymous data that the company chooses to make publicly available.

"[In any case], our operative systems aren't connected to the internet at all," Aarnio says. "But if we think about the company website and firewalls, those are 'knocked on' all the time. We're aware of this when we develop our systems and we're very strict with information-security questions."

While Fingrid has been the first to launch this service, it won't be alone for long. Aarnio expects Energinet.dk, Denmark's national electricity grid operator, to publish its open data service over the summer, and Sweden and Norway are following close behind.

"For a long time, the whole electricity market has been more open in the Nordic countries than elsewhere. Offering open data on the market is a natural continuation of that," Aarnio says.

He believes that the need for more open data will go hand in hand with the growth of smart grids and virtual power plants, which use software to harness electricity from a network of power sources, from solar panels to batteries, to provide a reliable power.

"You can build megawatt power plants based on demand response [models] and smart grids without owning a single power plant or power transmission grid. I believe we'll see a lot of these in the coming years," Aarnio says.

"We need open markets, interfaces and also open data so these can enter the [energy] market."

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