Tackling the Climate Crisis with Data: Kate Kolich

Ahead of speaking at CDAO Public Sector ANZ Online in July, EECA Evidence, Insights and Innovation Manager Kate Kolich discusses the agency’s mission and the importance of shared open data

Tackling the climate crisis requires monumental changes to the way the world produces and consumes energy. Educating and informing on the benefits and opportunities in making those changes at an industry level requires data.

EECA, the Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority, is a New Zealand government agency focused on energy efficiency and promoting the use of renewable energy. The organization is working to help the country meet its climate change commitments by focusing on sectors that rely heavily on fossil fuels.

“We partner with industry to help them identify ways to improve energy efficiency and decarbonise,” says Kate Kolich, EECA’s Manager of Evidence, Insights and Innovation. “My team’s role is to identify and provide the data that helps support that.”

Emission Goals in Industry

Kolich’s team is passionate about publishing energy usage data and renewable alternative use cases and making those available as open data resources.

One of EECA’s recent projects has been the development of an energy scenario visualisation tool that presents modelled insights over time, comparing a huge number of variables across fuels, sectors, technologies, and energy-related metrics.

Called The New Zealand Energy Scenarios TIMES-NZ 2.0, the data modelling and visualisation tool’s development and use will be discussed by Kolich during CDAO Public Sector ANZ Online in late July.

This type of data application, Kolich says, is powerful when partnering with industries, particularly in transport and business, in driving discussions around ways to reduce emissions across sectors.

“We have people within EECA whose role is to partner with industry to help them understand where the energy is being used and identify ways of improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions through the use of renewable energy, such as fuel switch-outs,” she says.  

“EECA administers contestable Government funds that support decarbonisation initiatives in New Zealand, they are based on data that considers what the potential emission reductions will be for initiatives. Then there’s ongoing review to ensure once they make the changes, they actually achieve the reductions.”

Driving Individual Action with Data

As concerned EECA is with bringing data and analytics information to industries to help them cut emissions, the organization also wants as many people as possible to have and harness information on the benefits of energy efficiency and renewables.

“One of the ways we enable actionable data is through the annual open data publication of the Energy End Use Database (EEUD). The EEUD estimates the national energy consumption by fuel type, sector end-use and technology for the previous year,” Kolich says.

“Currently on the EECA website there is EEUD data for 2017, 2018 and 2019. Later this year we will be publishing an update for the 2020 year and including a new data visualisation tool to enable more exploration and understanding of energy use.

“Another example of data-driven content we publish is a total-cost-of-ownership tool for electric vehicles,” Kolich adds. “That’s not just for use within businesses, it also equips individuals that are planning to purchase a new car with the data to know that they are buying the most efficient car.

“The tool allows them to look at any model or make of car, and it provides a cost projection over the total life of the vehicle. This tool shows that an electric vehicle will cost you less over its lifetime.”

Kolich says EECA also provides another data-driven tool that helps homeowners decide whether switching to solar panels is cost-effective.

“If someone is considering putting solar in their home, they can enter data about their home and current power bill into the tool and it will provide the estimated financial return for the installation,” she says. “We also have upcoming research on applications for commercial solar.”

As Kolich points out, the data-based tools and resources her team develop are closely tied both to energy efficiency as well as tangible everyday use cases.

“We try to  publish data and insights based on reality, our research focusses on things that people really need to do.” she says.

“We start by being facts-based. We identify case studies where we can do the analysis and understand for each case how the application of a different technology or renewable could enable better outcomes, then we publish the insight to make it available to enable better decision making.”

The Importance of Open Data

From its long-term energy use modelling projects to its tools for both organizations and individuals to make smarter, greener purchasing decisions, Kolich clearly sees data sharing as an important principle in the work EECA does.

We spend a lot of time focused on data quality because we want to make sure we publish content that people can actually reference and cite and have a high level of confidence in,” she says.

“As a public sector organization, one of the most important things we can do is make data available as open data and enabling it to be accessible. So wherever possible that’s making it machine-readable data with a good catalogue available for people to use.

“We want people to use data about energy efficiency. We aim to make the data available and accessible to help people make informed decisions around enabling a low carbon future.”

Kolich also praises other public sector organizations and government data and statistics repositories that publish open data.

“This creates, not only an opportunity for enabling better decisions, but it also creates a space for innovation to thrive,” she says. “Because people and organizations can then use open data to create something new.

“Making appropriate privacy preserved data available as open data, wherever possible, as a public sector organization, is one of the most important things to do to enable innovation.”

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