Energy watchdog urged to give free access to government data | Energy

The International Energy Agency is facing calls to make the national energy data it collects from governments publicly available.

This would aid independent research, which in turn could help to accelerate the global transition to low-carbon energy.

More than 30 international academics have written to the global energy watchdog to call for it to drop its paywalls for national energy datasets, which are collected using public funds, to avoid making climate action “more costly and less effective”.

The IEA publishes a number of influential reports on global energy systems, based in large part on the national energy data provided by the governments that it counts among its members. However, much of the data that underpins these reports is inaccessible to independent researchers.

The academics said that putting datasets behind paywalls makes it more difficult for independent energy system analysts, and the interested public, to investigate and better understand the path to net zero.

Instead, the “high-quality data” required to create effective and low-cost pathways to net zero societies should be available under suitable open licences, according to the academics.

“High-quality datasets already exist: they are published by the IEA but remain behind paywalls. And despite the IEA being a publicly funded institution, researchers and other interested third parties have to normally pay and consent to non‐disclosure to access the IEA data,” said the open letter to the IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol.

“Ultimately, a lack of data availability will lead to net zero transition pathways that are both more costly and less effective than they should have been,” the letter added.

The IEA was set up following the 1970s oil crisis to monitor global energy markets and provide independent global assessments that can be used to inform the decisions of policymakers and financiers. It is funded by member countries and other organisations but also generates revenue by selling data via paywalls.

A spokesperson for the IEA said the agency was “committed to enhancing and expanding data access” and has in recent years set a new policy to make more and more data and analysis available without charge.

“However, our data sales form an essential part of our operational budget, allowing the IEA to deliver on its essential mandates. The bulk of these sales are to private energy companies, financial institutions and consultancies,” the spokesperson said.

The academics argue that the IEA could bring in a small increase in its membership fees to cover the lost revenue from selling its data to the private sector. The modest rise in costs for members would be more than offset by the lower cost of energy solutions that would be possible if the data were more freely available, the academics said.

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