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Retrofit, data sets and the inventor of the internet

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet to Energy Saving Trust may not seem like the most obvious leap – but it is one we can rightly claim, albeit via one of our closest links.

We’re a fairly small organisation, so we sometimes require outside expertise. Zero carbon data specialists MastodonC run our EMBED database, and they in turn are part of the Open Data Institute (ODI) – the brainchild of Berners-Lee.

The Institute recently featured in The Guardian, having expanded its operations globally in a year. There was also a good mention for one of our favourite projects, Retrofit for the Future, which is achieving some fine results alongside Technology Strategy Board. These and other findings from out technology field trials are added to EMBED.

Our technologies team is excited about what is not yet your average database. It’s real-time, so any data going in can be quality-checked at all times. And data really can come in from any hardware, using cloud computing. Smart meters are and will be increasingly useful, but as more gadgets and appliances are added with cloud capabilities, more information can be securely gathered.

The more data that goes in, the better advice we’ll be able to give. Ultimately, more and deeper actual consumption information offers the promise of an end to assumptions when it comes to energy saving. With before and after-installation figures, wild claims about performance from the few less scrupulous players in the market may be a thing of the past, too.

Retrofit for the Future is not the only success our partners in big data are involved in. They have also crunched numbers from NHS prescribing data and highlighted potential £200million savings. Not the kind of cash you find down the back of the sofa in an outpatients clinic.

There is other work that more directly relates to energy and climate change under the umbrella of the ODI. A company called CarbonCulture hopes to overhaul the way Downing Street, Tate Modern and Cardiff Council measures and publishes their performance on energy efficiency, for example.

Berners-Lee’s plan is to democratise data and encourage collaboration and problem solving. Data, when properly gathered and accurately interpreted, certainly has this potential, but is often tainted by worries about security and privacy. A more altruistic, high-profile and truly open advocate like this may help shift data-sharing to an area we can all be comfortable with. The early signs are exciting.

There’s a lot to be said about our big data partnership work, so expect some more on this subject in the New Year. In the meantime, for more information about our work with the Technology Strategy Board and MastodonC, visit Retrofit for the future.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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