LOD at Energy Related Information Systems – an interview with Jon Weers and Florian Bauer

NREL and REEEP co-operate using LOD principles and technologies to exchange and combine information & data on the two energy related information systems: OpenEI and reegle.info since months now! Martin Kaltenböck from LOD2 have had the chance to interview representatives from both institutions: Jon Weers and Florian Bauer.

Question: What is the strategic approach of this co-operation (for NREL – for REEEP) and what data & information do you link to each other to create new knowledge?

Jon Weers: For NREL, cooperation with REEEP means seamless access to important information, less duplication of effort, opportunities for joint ventures, collaboration on cutting-edge development projects, and a partnership that has already resulted in a measured increase in both funding opportunities and the number of visitors to our mutual sites.  With REEEP, we’re currently sharing energy information from our OpenEI (Open Energy Information) platform, including complimentary aspects of our country profiles, renewable energy maps, programs and tools, and definitions from our glossary.  However, nearly all of our 55,000+ content pages are exposed via linked open data and shareable.

Florian Bauer: Both platforms, reegle.info and openei.org, are well-known knowledge broker portals for clean energy and each is a major source of information for their users. Though the two seem quite similar at first glance, they actually differ considerably in terms of target groups and the types of information they offer. The linked open data technology makes it possible for us to combine  our data sets and provide a comprehensive information package for our respective users, without the need to unnecessarily replicate data. It’s a  quite simple process: we take the information that’s relevant for our visitors from openEI and integrate it with our own content – and openEI does the same, in taking data from us and combining it with their own.

Question: And why are you using LOD mechanisms for this approach: where do you see the potentials and benefits of using LOD in the area of clean energy information?

Jon Weers: Availability of clean energy information is essential to accelerate the adoption of clean energy technologies.  OpenEI was developed in support of the Open Government Initiative started by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009.  The driving purpose of OpenEI is to provide free and open access to energy-related data, models, tools, and information.  LOD mechanisms have been adopted to ensure that this information reaches the widest audience possible, to make it easier for renewable energy information to find its way into the hands of developers and 3rd-party disseminators, and to empower them to use the information in ways we haven’t anticipated.  Conventional APIs are often restricted by the imagination of the developer programming them.  LOD provides full open access to data.  To us, this is the real benefit of using LOD; enabling REEEP and others to use our data to compliment their own sites, create their own applications, and increase the rate at which the market absorbs clean energy information.

Florian Bauer: The semantic technologies of Linked Open Data and the semantic approach itself offer very good ways of combining different sets of data and providing more useful and meaningful outputs for the user. When both portals use this technology, it is then very easy to receive and publish data sets, and it’s a great way to keep fetched information up-to-date without the need to monitor it manually.  Energy data is a prime example that shows the benefits of the LOD approach. In this arena, there are lots of data providers, all of them providing an immense amount of data that is is critical to analysts and decision makers. It’s impossible to make effective investment decisions (e.g. for renewable  energy) without having a comprehensive picture on the energy situation in a given  country or without the possibility to work with these data sets. Following the rules of LOD ensures that these datasets are published in an  open and machine readable format which supports the acceleration of the clean energy marketplace.

Question: Are there concrete results of this LOD project – did you see an increase of user figures and/or did you receive any positive feedback by the users of your information portals?

Jon Weers: Absolutely.  We have noticed a measured increase in the number of unique visitors coming to our site coming from LOD partners such as REEEP.  We’ve received praise from several of our users who enjoy the additional content.  However, true to form with most web development efforts, we’re likely to receive negative feedback as well.  Given the speed at which any interruptions in our connections to reegle are reported, I’d say the majority of our users are quite fond of the integration.  In addition, this integration provides a tangible linked open data example that people can relate to.

Florian Bauer: Yes, absolutely – we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from users who  liked the approach of finding all relevant information from various data sources in one place. Since we have been using LOD, our user numbers have increased by more than 100%, and we expect this growth to continue many other portals are now beginning to use our data sets to enrich their own information.  Another important outcome of the LOD cooperation is that it clearly strengthened the cooperation between REEEP and NREL. We are now working closely to coordinate our future developments to avoid replication and provide real added value on each of our portals.

Question: Can you please describe very shortly what (LOD) technologies and tools you are using on OpenEI and reegle.info?

Jon Weers: OpenEI utilizes Semantic Mediawiki, which automatically exposes wiki content and semantic properties as RDF.  These RDF data, and select datasets, are then loaded into a sparql endpoint powered by Virtuoso.

Florian Bauer: Reegle offers all its data sets in RDF format and provides a SPARQL endpoint. To support developers in fetching our data, we recently launched  our data portal aimed specifically at data technicians (http://data.reegle.info), offering detailed descriptions on how to access  the reegle data sets. In addition (see http://www.reegle.info/add-reegle-to-your-site) we provide a WordPress plugin and several widgets to easily integrate our content into other websites. As base technology we use PoolParty software of Semantic Web Company for thesaurus management and -publishing (as LOD including an endpoint) as well as OpenLinks Virtuoso for the endpoint of additional data.

Question: Can you please give the readers of this interview a short introduction of your organisation (NREL & REEEP) as well as about your 2 clean energy related information gateways (OpenEI & reegle.info)

Jon Weers: NREL, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (http://www.nrel.gov/) is the only U.S. national laboratory solely dedicated to advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies from concept to commercial application.   NREL’s mission is to develop renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and practices, advance related science and engineering, and transfer knowledge and innovations to address America’s energy and environmental goals. OpenEI, short for Open Energy Information (http://en.openei.org), is a collaborative knowledge-sharing platform with free and open access to energy-related data, models, tools, and information.  OpenEI features more than 55,000 content pages, more than 750    downloadable datasets, regional gateways on a variety of energy-related topics, and numerous online tools and applications.

Florian Bauer: The Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) is a non-profit, specialist change agent aiming to accelerate the market for renewable energy and energy efficiency, with a primary focus on emerging markets and developing countries. We have three main types of activities: First, REEEP initiates and funds clean energy projects on the ground. Next, REEEP develops and supports policy-maker networks with initiatives such as the Sustainable Energy Regulation Network (SERN) and Renewable Energy and International Law (REIL) and third, REEEP builds capacity and disseminates and replicates learnings through tools such as reegle.info.  The information gateway www.reegle.info is designed to be an independent information dissemination tool & search engine for up-to-date information on renewable energy, energy efficiency and climate change. It provides information and data on all the various sub-sectors within these sectors at a global level, and makes information accessible in a user-friendly and intuitive format. Its key features include Country Energy Profiles (www.reegle.info/countries), a clean energy web search (http://www.reegle.info/clean-energy-search) and a database of energy stakeholders (http://www.reegle.info/actors)

Martin Kaltenböck: Jon and Florian many thanks for this interview – this project /  co-operation seems to be a fruitful and successful story of using LOD  technology for data integration and management – we are looking forward  to the next steps of OpenEI and reegle.info using LOD mechanisms and  technologies – and wish you lots of success in this!!

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