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Turning Data Into Insight

According to the UN, the “deployment of decentralized renewable energy is fueling a disruptive transformation of the energy sector”, by providing a fast, cost-effective and sustainable approach to universal energy access. Yet we at Power for All, our partners and stakeholders agree that many actors with the influence to accelerate decentralized renewable energy (DRE) growth—and therefore energy access—lack information about modern distributed technologies, policies and markets. While many well-known institutions are conducting important research on achieving universal access (including DRE), reports and associated data sets often do not reach key audiences. In fact, a 2014 World Bank study found that nearly one-third of their PDF reports have never been downloaded, and 40 percent of their reports have been downloaded fewer than 100 times.

Furthermore, at Power for All we reviewed current and popular energy information portals, and found that DRE is under-represented, even within the energy access space. There is no comprehensive, easy-to-use inventory of the current, critical facts. And of course, facts that are kept relevant and up-to-date are needed to advance decentralized renewable energy and universal energy access in this quickly evolving sector.

To achieve universal energy access we need to address this looming “information use gap”, and so the Platform for Energy Access Knowledge (PEAK) was born. I joined Power for All in 2016 to create a novel energy research team and platform, forged through powerful industry-academic partnerships, with a mission to make data accessible, understandable and useable by the world’s critical energy influencers—policy makers, financers, regulators.

Our theory of communication is like a pyramid, or a peak (yep, pun intended) with three layers, each needed to support the one above. At the foundation of all communication is simply data aggregation—making it easier to find disparate data sources under one roof, where they are well organized, where data can be visualized and where discoverability of other data is a natural process. We spent over a year working with tech experts from Silicon Valley to build a platform that does exactly that. Today I’m happy to announce that our platform is launched and live!

Proper data aggregation sits at the base and supports the next layer, data synthesis—helping people to more easily process, digest and internalize the information they have. While we acknowledge the information gap, we also believe there is a lot of data that we do have access to, which as a community we are not using as effectively as we could. That’s the goal of this exercise—to help us understand what we know as a sector! Our PEAK research team is comprised of university students who help produce sharp, data-driven “ready-to-share” content on topics ranging from the impact of DRE technologies on gender empowerment to reducing black carbon emissions—all distilled from best-available information that our technology helps aggregate.

Data synthesis helps identify what the true information gaps are, and solving those is the top of our pyramid—data generation. So with our university partners like Berkeley and Strathmore, we at PEAK conduct research to help some of these critical, unanswered questions. Last year, for instance, our team published a widely circulated Point of View that identified five key, direct policies for unlocking DRE markets based on statistical analysis of publicly available data. Engaging local government agencies with these findings led to commitments of action in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone.

Together aggregation, synthesis and generation help turn data into real insights and makes for more effective communication. Our latest addition to this research engine is the PEAK technology. “New data sources can give us new insights, but only if accompanied with the right mix of tools and processes for filtering, managing, and analysing.” Our interactive knowledge platform is designed to curate, organize and streamline large (and growing) bodies of data into digestible, sharable and useable knowledge. PEAK integrates a select portfolio of open-access applications that together facilitate the processing, sorting and cataloguing of relevant publicly available reports and data.

PEAK is unique because it aggregates the best research from large development agencies, academic institutions, non-governmental agencies, companies and community groups to create a specialized library for decentralized renewable energies (DRE). The platform is also embedded with a sector-specific search engine and a host of carefully selected terms to help you find the information you need more easily. PEAK offers users the opportunity to compare, contrast, layer and work with multiple different data sources all at once—for instant visualization.

Finally, PEAK is unique because it is smart. PEAK’s ability to automatically sort, catalogue and visualize data is all based on artificial intelligence, so it’s not a static tool—it will get sharper over time. In fact, we are currently working with machine-learning experts at Duke University to further enhance PEAK’s intelligence, so that it even more seamlessly finds the most relevant data for our users. Watch this space. PEAK is for practitioners, governments, media, businesses, financiers, think tanks, advocacy groups and CSOs alike. Please have a test drive and share with us your new insights. More soon!

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