Icebreaker One and SSEN Distribution first crossed paths while looking into electric vehicle (EV) uptake and the charging infrastructure required to accommodate it. The Distribution Network Operator (DNO) wanted to better understand the role that data could play in aligning these elements with network capacity. And, while this was an industry first, it was not the first time that SSEN Distribution had looked into ways to improve its data strategy.

“We recognised, early on, that a shift was needed in the way we viewed ourselves as ‘just’ an energy company. We looked at what these big technology companies were doing and recognised the value that better access to data could have in areas like predicting asset failure”  Michael Glass, Data Governance and Information Manager, SSEN Distribution

The great enabler

SSEN Distribution looked to leave behind a mindset that viewed data and data governance as a ‘nice to have’. Replacing it with a firm belief that ‘data is the single biggest enabler of a decarbonised, decentralised and digitised energy future’, and critical to achieving net zero. SSEN Distribution recognised that data needed to be embedded in the day to day decision making of the business and that this data needed to be accurate and trustworthy. 

“Good decisions made with bad data are just bad decisions we don’t know about yet. It’s only with good data that you can make good decisions.”

The momentum of this internal cultural shift coupled with a regulatory push from Ofgem, meant that SSEN Distribution’s attention turned towards the electric vehicle (EV) market. They aimed to ensure the energy network was ready to accommodate rising demand, which continued to grow despite UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to push back the zero-emission vehicle mandate to 2035. As of April this year, there were 1,100,000 fully electric cars on UK roads.

The bumpy road of EV uptake

The journey of EV uptake has not exactly been a smooth one. At the beginning of 2023, amidst a backdrop of higher electricity prices and falling fuel prices, uptake dwindled. But, rather than stunting it, the turbulent nature of EV uptake has only strengthened the case for aligning chargepoint demand with network capacity. By working with Icebreaker One to tackle data silos and build out data-sharing opportunities, SSEN Distribution was one of the first among their peers to take action on this crucial piece of work.

“The installation of EV chargers ultimately boils down to network capacity. A consumer might purchase an EV without being informed that there’s not yet network capacity for home charging at their home address”.

This mismatch might, understandably, lead to some disgruntled consumers, but it’s a mismatch that breaking down data silos or isolated pockets of data can help solve. If data on network capacity is made available for EV charger installers and EV sellers to access, this can help manage expectations for EV owners and potential owners and optimise charger roll out.

Icebreaker One’s work with SSEN helped the DNO to access hundreds of datasets with just one round of authentication and technical integration. This improved access to data is helping them align grid capacity with demand from newly installed EV charge points. Better access to charge points means consumers will be more comfortable in making the switch to an EV, helping to reduce the carbon emissions stemming from ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. 

Beyond EVs

The work between Icebreaker One and SSEN has now stretched beyond the EV market, with far-reaching benefits in areas such as renewable energy and domestic and commercial heat pumps. In our next instalment, we look at some of the tools that SSEN Distribution has built off the back of this work and delve deeper into data governance.

“Working with IB1 allowed us to see what our data journey looked like, and build the foundations of data governance. It helped massively, allowing us to communicate what we meant when talking about data sharing with our consumers and stakeholders. It’s also allowed us to build tools that are more suited to real world use cases.”