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Catalyst partners release energy transition resources

In the past two weeks, Catalyst partners Energy Innovation and the Rocky Mountain Institute have released two major resources based on open data to help stakeholders better understand the energy transition in the US electricity sector. We’re excited to say that Catalyst team members prepared data from Catalyst’s Public Utility Data Liberation project and provided analytical support for both resources.

Energy Innovation’s Coal Cost Crossover 2.0 provided an update to their 2018 report, which projected that by 2025 three quarters of the nation’s coal power plants would be uneconomic. The 2.0 shows that the economics of coal power in the US have deteriorated more rapidly than expected. The report finds that 80% of existing coal plants are either uneconomic or slated to retire before 2025. Economic viability is assessed by comparing coal plant operating costs with estimates of building new renewable facilities nearby, using the levelized cost of wind and solar energy estimates from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Renewable Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) model. Coal operating costs are derived from fuel and operations/maintenance data from FERC and EIA, or from estimates from the National Energy Modeling System where FERC and EIA data was unavailable. 

The Rocky Mountain Institute recently released the first version of their Utility Transition Hub, an interactive data portal that allows users to track, quantify, and understand how investments, operations, policies, and regulations shape outcomes in the electricity sector. Stakeholders can explore the energy transition in the power sector as a whole, group subsidiary utilities by their parent company, or make comparisons between utilities. Cleaned data from FERC and EIA underly Tableau visualizations which help users to evaluate historical performance on emissions reductions and investments in renewables, and to assess the alignment of resource planning and climate commitments with a 1.5 degree C trajectory.

Comparing attributes of Duke Energy Corporation's operating subsidiaries, segmented by plant type.
Comparing attributes of Duke Energy Corporation’s operating subsidiaries, segmented by plant type, on RMI’s Utility Transition Hub.
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updates

Publishing PUDL with Datasette

Users have been asking for live access to our data forever, either via a PUDL API or a web interface, but we didn’t feel like we had the resources to maintain that kind of service and ensure it was reliable. Then a few weeks ago we came across an awesome open source project called Datasette that takes SQLite databases, wraps them in a Docker container, and lets users explore the data with their web browser.

It’s perfect for publishing read-only, infrequently updated data. That’s exactly what we’re doing with PUDL, and we’re already storing the data in SQLite, so it only took an afternoon to get the development version of our databases published. This goes a long way toward satisfying some of our data access goals for less technical users, which we touched on a few weeks ago in this post.

Our Datasette instance can be found at https://data.catalyst.coop and it contains both the raw FERC Form 1 DB, with all of the Form 1 data from 1994-2019, and our PUDL DB, which includes the EIA 860 and EIA 923 data from 2009-2019, and the subset of the (113!) FERC Form 1 tables that we’ve taken the time to clean up so far.

The system has already made it easier for us to collaborate and share the huge pile of data we’ve compiled over the last four years. We’re looking forward to using this system to get our data into the hands of more users.

Just a few examples of custom SQL queries or whole tables:

Please give it a spin, and let us know what you think! This is still experimental, and the interface will probably evolve. If you find problems, feel free to create an issue on GitHub, or drop us a line at pudl@catalyst.coop. Also, we’re still hoping to get the EIA 861 and FERC 714 integrated by the end of the year. See our Data We Wrangle page for additional datasets of interest. And if you’ve got other favorite tools for publishing live, open data, let us know in the comments.

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updates

PUDL Infrastructure Roadmap for 2021

A couple of weeks ago I attended TWEEDS 2020 virtually (like everything this year) and talked about Catalyst’s ongoing Public Utility Data Liberation (PUDL) project, and especially the challenges of getting a big pile of data into the hands of different kinds of users, using different tools for different purposes. It ended up sketching out a bit of a PUDL infrastructure roadmap for the next year, and so we thought it would be a good idea to write it up here too.

We’ll have a separate post looking at our 2021 data roadmap.

The US Energy Information Asymmetry

PUDL is all about addressing a big information asymmetry in the regulatory and legislative processes that affect the US energy system. Utilities have much more information about their own systems than policymakers and advocates typically do. As a result, regulators often defer to the utilities on technical & analytical points. Commercial data exists, but it’s expensive. We want to get enough data into the hands of other kinds of stakeholders that they can make credible quantitative arguments to regulators, and challenge unfounded assertions put forward by utilities.

Federal Agencies and Their Favorite File Formats