This posting is a copy of an open letter sent to the IEA as a result of suggestions by Roser and Ritchie (2021) and Ritchie (2021). This version does not list all the 37 signatories by name, affiliation, and research interests.
Although this posting is under my login, @MalteSchaefer initiated the process, coordinated the letter, liaised with the signatories, and secured their final confirmations.
The underlying markdown file is available for download and reuse:
iea-open-letter-forum.01.md.tgz (7.4 KB)
The London‑based Guardian newspaper ran a short article on the open letter two days later:
- Ambrose, Jillian (10 December 2021). “Energy watchdog urged to give free access to government data”. The Guardian. London, United Kingdom. ISSN 0261-3077.
Scroll down for a French translation of the original letter.
An ongoing summary of events is provided in posting 10.
Open letter to the International Energy Agency and its member countries: please remove paywalls from global energy data and add appropriate open licenses
8 December 2021
Dr Fatih Birol
International Energy Agency
Dear Dr Birol, dear members of the IEA, dear representatives of IEA member countries,
We the undersigned ask that the International Energy Agency (IEA) makes the datasets it receives and collates from its member countries available under suitable open licenses so that this information can be freely used and reused.1 Such status would enable both independent energy system analysts and the interested public to investigate and better understand future net‑zero and net‑negative energy systems. We will also address this same request to IEA member countries, associate member countries, and strategic partners in the hope that they can also influence IEA policies on this particular matter.
In this open letter, we review the arguments in support of our request, provide some legal context, introduce our community and conclude with the list of signatories.
Roser and Ritchie (2021) have already described the problems arising from the IEA providing their data behind paywalls. They also offer a simple solution: make the data publicly available and then have the member countries increase their financial contributions to the IEA by a modest amount (Roser and Ritchie estimate 5–6 million USD in total per annum) to make up the foregone revenue from proprietary data licensing. We therefore present here just a brief summary of the situation and the proposed solution. Those needing more context and detail should refer directly to Roser and Ritchie (2021).
Three decades of research have shown that we, as a global human society, need to rapidly transition to net-zero — and ultimately net-negative — emissions, in order to avoid the worst outcomes from a changing climate. The majority of anthropogenic emissions are related to energy conversion and use in some form or another — and particularly through the unabated use of fossil fuels. Besides climate change, energy conversion processes can be major contributors to other types of environmental and human harm, including local air pollution.
High-quality data are required to create effective and efficient transition pathways towards a net-zero society. These transition pathways rely on a thorough analysis and accurate modeling of current systems, including energy systems. The quality of the analytics and modeling is, however, critically determined by the data used to describe and characterize the systems of interest.
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 — while often working for public institutions, including universities, themselves.
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. It is also highly likely that the total amount of revenue foregone by the IEA, should they decide to stop selling their data, bears no relation to the global cost of less-than-optimal transition pathways. As indicated earlier, Roser and Ritchie (2021) estimate that the IEA licensing fees net about 5–6 million USD annually. The cost differentials between the various net-zero transition pathway scenarios will typically be several orders of magnitude higher than that from IEA data licensing fees.
The benefits of open data extend beyond climate change mitigation efforts. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that for the electricity, oil and gas, and transport sectors alone, open data could create an economic value of 1.3–2.0 trillion USD per year (Manyika et al 2013). Open data leads to less duplication of research efforts — with fewer resources wasted on recreating the paywalled IEA data from alternative and often inferior sources. Open data reduces inequality, since researchers from well‑off countries and institutions are better positioned to afford the purchase of IEA data. The credibility and replicability of research is enhanced: independent researchers can verify or challenge studies based on common data. Transparency is enhanced in relation to public policy development. Finally, open data improves outreach and engagement by reducing barriers for journalists and the public to access the data and understand its implications. It is therefore in everyone’s interest that the IEA data be open and freely available.
The proposed solution is straightforward and consists of two aspects: first, the IEA should remove the paywalls to its datasets while its member countries increase their financial contributions to the IEA to compensate for the foregone revenue from data licensing fees. The IEA has an important role in the ongoing energy transition, therefore it is clear that the organization requires adequate funding. Second, the liberated data then needs to be provided with appropriate open licenses to enable its use and reuse.
The undersigned will also ask their respective governments to increase their financial contributions to the IEA. The resulting benefits from available and open data, including more cost-efficient net-zero transition pathways, are very likely to outweigh the lost sales revenue by a very significant multiplier.
Summing up: making all past and present IEA datasets openly available should enable a more rapid, less costly, and more equitable transition to net-zero global energy systems, create additional economic value, increase the quality and quantity of research, and improve outreach and engagement with the public. The cost of this outcome is modest, and we believe could easily be shared among IEA member countries.
As Hannah Richie (2021) states in her Nature commentary: “To tackle global problems, the world must create open data.” We, the undersigned, agree wholeheartedly.
The concept of open data is often not well understood. We therefore review some legal aspects in this section. As with any data that can be made public legitimately, the IEA data needs to carry appropriate open licensing.
We support the recent view of the United Kingdom Ofgem regulator that the Creative Commons CC‑BY‑4.0 license may be the most suitable (Ofgem 2021, footnote 7), while the metadata should be marked public domain via a Creative Commons CC0‑1.0 dedication to minimize any friction associated with downstream processing (Kreutzer 2011).
The European Union defines open data thus in recital 16 of the 2019/1024 Open Data Directive (European Commission 2019): “Open data as a concept is generally understood to denote data in an open format that can be freely used, re‑used and shared by anyone for any purpose.” That definition clearly rules out prohibitions on commercial usage.
We note that clause 1 of the 2021 UNFCCC COP26 agreement (UNFCCC 2021) reads that the agreement: “Recognizes the importance of the best available science for effective climate action and policymaking”. That must mean that key policy‑relevant national energy statistics should neither reside behind paywalls nor remain legally encumbered regarding their use and reuse.
We note that paragraph 15.2 of the 1966 UN ICESCR covenant (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) reads: “The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right [to science and culture] shall include those necessary for the conservation, the development and the diffusion of science and culture.” That must mean that member countries contributing data to the IEA have an obligation under international law to also provide those same national energy statistics to energy system analysts and the interested public for independent research and analysis as suitably licensed open data.
We wish to stress that the current situation is highly detrimental to our investigations into rapid decarbonization pathways for national and regional energy systems and their relative merits. On that exact theme, we would like to be able to replicate the results reported in the landmark IEA (2021a) roadmap — but are prevented from doing so because we cannot source and freely use and reuse the underlying datasets.2
Finally, we, as a community, are more than happy to liaise with the IEA on practical measures to help make this important information freely usable and reusable (Hirth 2020, Morrison 2018). We have experience interacting with the European Commission, the ENTSO‑E3 umbrella organization, market regulators, market operators, and various energy companies in this context
We the undersigned are energy system analysts and many of us are active in the Open Energy Modelling Initiative (openmod) community.4 Notwithstanding, we sign here simply as individuals.
The Open Energy Modelling Initiative was established in September 2014 to promote open source modeling and genuinely open data. The community has approximately 900 members subscribed to its mailing list and 800 in the discussion forum. To date, the openmod has held 14 workshops, and our next post‑Covid event is in planning.
Nationals from the following 18 countries are represented in the list of signatories: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and USA.
As indicated, some of the undersigned will forward copies of this open letter to their respective governments in order to highlight the problem in a national context too.
Please note that not all the 37 signatories are listed in this posting for reasons of personal privacy. Those that did opt for their names to be public are as follows:
|Dhruvak Aggarwal||Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), India||Researcher working on power sector reforms, energy efficiency and renewable energy integration|
|Cruz Enrique Borges Hernández, PhD||University of Deusto, Spain||Researcher modeling household investment decisions on the energy transition, researcher on Smart Grid technologies and Coordinator of WHY project|
|Tom Brown, PhD||Technical University of Berlin, Germany||Professor of energy systems, developing open source energy transition models for use around the world that rely on high quality national data|
|Johannes Hampp||Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany||PhD candidate working on international energy systems and exchange|
|Sacha Hodencq||Grenoble Electrical Engineering Laboratory (G2Elab), France||PhD candidate working on open science for the design and operation of energy systems|
|Daniel Huppmann, PhD||International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria||Coordinator of the research theme “Scenario Services and Scientific Software” at the Energy, Climate, and Environment Program (ECE)|
|Francesco Lombardi, PhD||TU Delft, Netherlands||Post-doctoral researcher working on energy systems modelling to support the European energy transition|
|Pietro Lubello||Università degli Studi di Firenze, Italy||PhD candidate on residential energy systems and energy communities modelling|
|Gunnar Luderer, PhD||Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Technical University of Berlin, Germany||Leader of the Energy Systems Group and Professor and Chair of the Global Energy Systems Department, working on Integrated Assessment Modeling and Global, regional and national pathways towards climate neutrality|
|Barry McMullin, PhD||Dublin City University, Ireland||Researcher in Paris-aligned energy system decarbonization policy|
|Robbie Morrison||open energy modeling community||Focus on open science, open data, and associated legal issues|
|Christopher Mutel, PhD||Paul Scherrer Institute, Switzerland||Researcher in prospective life cycle assessment of energy and mobility systems|
|Fabian Neumann, PhD||Technical University of Berlin, Germany||Researcher on transitions in the European energy system|
|Taco Niet, PhD||Simon Fraser University School of Sustainable Energy Engineering, Canada||Assistant Professor of Professional Practice and Principal Investigator, ΔE+ Research Lab|
|Bryn Pickering, PhD||ETH Zürich, Switzerland||Researcher on cross-sectoral energy system decarbonization, from sub-national to continental scales|
|Sylvain Quoilin, PhD||KU Leuven / University of Liège, Belgium||Assistant Professor and Head of the “Integrated and Sustainable Energy Systems” research group|
|Malte Schäfer||Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany||PhD candidate modeling and analyzing electricity related emissions|
|Mirko Schäfer, PhD||University of Freiburg, Germany||Researcher working in energy system modelling and analysis, with a focus on scenario analysis and emission accounting|
|Ingmar Schlecht, PhD||Neon.energy and ZHAW School of Management and Law, Germany||Director at Neon, energy economics policy consulting and Postdoctoral researcher at ZHAW, power system market design and modelling|
|Adam Stein, PhD||Breakthrough Institute, USA||Researcher in energy system planning for decarbonization, resilience, and social equity|
|Johannes Thema||(personal capacity)||Researcher in energy policy modeling|
|Bo Weidema, PhD||Aalborg University, Denmark||Professor and President of the International Life Cycle Academy|
|Grant Wilson, PhD||University of Birmingham, UK||Head of the Energy Informatics Group, interested in local energy systems data for cross vector decarbonization|
|Jarrad Wright, PhD||Past: Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa / Future: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), USA||Researcher working on developing a national level full-sector energy model utilizing open modelling frameworks|
European Commission (26 June 2019). “Directive (EU) 2019/1024 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on open data and the re‑use of public sector information — PE/28/2019/REV/1”. Official Journal of the European Union. L 172: 56–83.
IEA (May 2021a). Net zero by 2050: a roadmap for the global energy sector. Paris, France: IEA Publications.
IEA (May 2021b). Net zero by 2050 scenario — Data product. International Energy Agency (IEA). Paris, France.
Hirth, Lion (1 January 2020). “Open data for electricity modeling: legal aspects”. Energy Strategy Reviews. 27: 100433. ISSN 2211‑467X. doi:10.1016/j.esr.2019.100433. Open access.
Kreutzer, Till (13 November 2014). Open content: a practical guide to using Creative Commons licences. Germany: German Commission for UNESCO, North Rhine-Westphalian Library Service Centre (hbz), Wikimedia Deutschland — Gesellschaft zur Förderung Freien Wissens. ISBN 978‑3‑940785‑57‑2.
Manyika, James, Michael Chui, Diana Farrell, Steve Van Kuiken, Peter Groves, and Elizabeth Almasi Doshi (1 October 2013). Open data: Unlocking innovation and performance with liquid information — Report. McKinsey Global Institute (MGI).
Morrison, Robbie (April 2018). “Energy system modeling: public transparency, scientific reproducibility, and open development”. Energy Strategy Reviews. 20: 49–63. ISSN 2211‑467X. doi:10.1016/j.esr.2017.12.010. Open access.
Ofgem (15 November 2021). Decision on Data Best Practice Guidance and Digitalisation Strategy and Action Plan Guidance. London, United Kingdom: Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem). OGL‑UK‑3.0 license.
Roser, Max and Hannah Ritchie (7 October 2021). The International Energy Agency publishes the detailed, global energy data we all need, but its funders force it behind paywalls: let’s ask them to change it. Our World in Data. Oxford, United Kingdom.
Ritchie, Hannah (5 October 2021). “Covid’s lessons for climate, sustainability and more from our World in Data”. Nature. 598 (7879): 9–9. ISSN 1476‑4687. doi:10.1038/d41586‑021‑02691‑4.
1 The contents of this document are published under a Creative Commons CC0‑1.0 public domain dedication. The names of the undersigned should not be replicated separately from this document to preserve personal privacy and retain context.
2 In the case of the net‑zero by 2050 study (IEA 2021a), the underlying datasets (IEA 2021b) are, upon registration, available under a Creative Commons CC‑BY‑NC‑SA‑3.0‑IGO license. The use of an established public license is a clear step forward, but that particular license choice is, in our view, inadequate on two counts. First, the NC or non‑commercial attribute means the license does not qualify as open under established definitions for open data (for example, European Commission (2019) recital 16, also quoted in full elsewhere in this document). And second, only Creative Commons licenses from version 4.0 onwards are suitable for use on data. Earlier licenses versions, such as the CC‑BY‑NC‑SA‑3.0‑IGO license in question, do not waive the 96/9/EC database rights enabled by European Union law and also currently included within United Kingdom law. Use of the CC‑BY‑NC‑SA‑3.0‑IGO license may therefore mean that a user could inadvertently infringe the intellectual property that has naturally attached to the data that underpins the IEA net‑zero by 2050 study. This eventuality is clearly unsatisfactory, even if the prospect of litigation is low. Moreover, researchers cannot legitimately mix this IEA data with other data under CC‑BY‑4.0 licensing and reissue the aggregate. This certainly presents a major impediment to effective low carbon research. Notwithstanding, we welcome this move to make some of the data held by the IEA more accessible.
3 European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity, https://www.entsoe.eu
4 The Open Energy Modelling Initiative is also covered on Wikipedia.