To take sustainability targets seriously governments and businesses must access and understand the reams of data that are often freely available to them, writes Paul Leahy.

Open data is critical to climate change mitigation and achieving greater sustainability globally. From an energy standpoint, open data might include data sets such as those captured via smart meters to show everything from household energy use to spatial and renewable energy data. Open energy data, available to all, can be analysed and used in ways that help significantly reduce energy consumption at both an enterprise and consumer level.

Open data is just as it sounds: data sets collected by agencies that are made freely available to anyone that wants to use them. The Australian government has its own efforts available at The website is a repository for different types of data from all levels of government.

The possibilities that this data resource opens up are vast, with information available about what’s happening in the local environment, all made available in a format that is easily digestible by data analytics software.

Meanwhile, the Australian government’s consumer data right initiatives that will be applied to the energy sector are a good start to help businesses and consumers make better choices regarding their energy consumption, further enhancing the nation’s sustainability efforts. But more can be done.

The benefits of open data

Governments can use open data in developing policies designed to ensure better energy and environmental regulation. The potential for data collection is enormous. It’s not just restricted to satellite data but also advanced “internet of things” sensors.

These IoT devices can capture just about any sort of data. Want to know how much sunlight fell on a particular field over a certain period of time? An IoT sensor can tell you. This latest sensor technology offers real-time reporting of environmental data. And that data can be used to create open databases available for anyone to use and assess.

Using open energy data, consumers will be able to access apps that can instantly determine the best energy plans for their specific use and allow them to switch providers easily.

These same apps could also inform consumers about the potential energy savings and financial viability of an investment in solar power, for instance.

Organisations can also use open data and the IoT to track their own sustainability efforts, using open data to provide their customers with the best service – proactive maintenance, proactive service, perhaps recommending energy-saving changes to their customers.

A critical part of the open data movement is the analytics associated with finding insights and answers about our energy use.

The importance of data analytics

Analytics can develop insights into what has happened and why. But more importantly, it can also provide insights into what will happen, when it will happen, and what are the contributing factors for that particular outcome.

Businesses and governments need to use open data, and analytics, to create new models around sustainability. That’s because the environment has been treated as an externality – that is, something to be used (and abused) but which wasn’t factored into calculations about the bottom line.

With the shift towards sustainability, more companies are taking environmental inputs and outcomes into their ledger books and calculating profit based on their environmental performance. These calculations are all powered by data and the insights from advanced analytics.

Without data and analytics, we’re going to repeat the environmental mistakes of the past. By using open data sets, we can map a future where businesses, governments and the environment are moving forward for the betterment of our Earth.

Paul Leahy is country manager Australia and New Zealand for software company Qlik.