Integrated Energy Planning Needs Good Data

A woman makes chapatis under the light of a solar lamp in a village in Uttar Pradesh, India. Photo credit: ADB.

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Published: 13 November 2020

Increased use of geospatial modelling in integrated energy planning highlights gaps in data.


The world has already seen the power of integrated energy planning for delivering new energy access to previously underserved populations. National electrification plans in countries like Ethiopia, Togo, or Nepal have harnessed integrated approaches and delivered impressive results.

One of the pillars of integrated energy planning is the use of geospatial modeling. Technologies like geographic information systems (GIS), satellite imagery, and machine learning allow for fast, cost-effective, and visually powerful modeling of optimal energy pathways that clearly define the role of utilities, mini-grid, and off-grid solar companies, and clean cooking solution providers in expanding energy access.

Even though geospatial modeling is recognized as a powerful tool, its increasing adoption has highlighted a key challenge: data gaps and data quality. As with any modeling exercise, geospatial models are only as good as the data and assumptions on which they are based. Sound data provides the evidence decision-makers (e.g., energy planners, investors, and companies) need to act.

Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), an organization that works toward the achievement of affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), hosted a workshop series in July 2020 to explore how geospatial-based integrated energy planning can be made more accurate, consistent, and practical through better data. The workshop brought together experts involved in generating, analyzing, or using data for energy planning purposes. Five virtual consultative meetings identified the data needs and quality of integrated energy planning, where gaps exist, and how they can be filled. These issues were explored in the context of both electrification and clean cooking planning.

Key Challenges

Current energy data shortcomings holding back the implementation of integrated energy plans include:

  • Accessibility. Important datasets such as energy demand, willingness and ability to pay, fuel supply chains, the location and energy needs of public institutions, and productive uses are often unavailable or incomplete. Meanwhile, open-access data are typically only available at low spatial and/or temporal resolutions; granular data are usually harder to attain and often come at a cost. For example, while data on high-voltage (HV) lines is publicly available, data on medium-voltage (MV) or low-voltage (LV) networks (e.g., distributed generation) typically aren’t.
  • Reliability. Open source datasets raise questions around how/by whom they were produced and whether they are up to date. Even private datasets are not updated regularly enough for decision-makers to act upon them or to monitor progress.
  • Overlooking cooking. There is a dearth of nationally representative, verifiable data for cooking supply (e.g., fuel availability and supply chains) and demand (ability to pay; fuel preferences; willingness to adopt new cooking technologies and fuels) in energy-deficit countries.

Recognizing these challenges, Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) hosted a workshop series about data and integrated energy planning in July 2020. The workshop brought together 65 participants, representing 28 organizations involved in generating, analyzing, or using data for energy planning purposes to explore how geospatial-based integrated energy planning can be made more accurate, consistent, and practical through better data.

Developing New Data Standards

Through a series of five meetings, several principles emerged from the workshop that should guide the development of new energy data standards:

  • Closer attention to the demand side. Energy planning has traditionally focused on the supply side, with attention paid to technologies, such as the central grid. Demand-side considerations are often overlooked or simplified. To ensure that integrated energy planning is effective and meets the needs of people, demand should be reflected in planning (both for electrification and clean cooking). This should be done through investments in demand-side data such as detailed information on the ability and willingness to pay, productive uses, electricity growth, and demand heterogeneity.
  • Dynamic data. The inputs and data that inform energy planning are dynamic. For example, technology costs can evolve rapidly, due to learning curves and innovations, and can change significantly as economies of scale are leveraged. As planning exercises can span multiple years, if not decades, it is important to consider the dynamic nature of data and build planning systems that adapt accordingly.
  • No copy-and-paste solutions. Data quality needs vary based on the intended use of the planning/modeling exercise. For this reason, it is important to identify which stakeholders a planning/modeling exercise is intended for before defining what data might be needed and at what level of granularity/accuracy. Furthermore, planners should be pragmatic and think about the optimal level of data quality in terms of the minimum data attributes or characteristics (e.g., granularity) that generate similar insights to those that might be gained with more “perfect” data.
  • Commit to clean cooking data and analysis. Geospatial integrated planning can help the clean cooking sector by serving as a central framework for stakeholders to rally behind and facilitating operational-level or technology/fuel specific decision-making. Meeting this potential will require substantial investments and improvements in cooking data and analysis. The beginnings of a geospatial integrated cooking framework can catalyze these commitments.
  • Improved understanding of electric cooking. As advances in electric cooking spur the convergence of electrification and clean cooking, it is important that planners and power suppliers (e.g., utilities, mini-grid developers, solar home system providers) better understand the implications of greater electric cooking adoption on energy demand.
  • Harness low-cost solutions. While on-the-ground data collection will remain important, we should be looking to exploit advances in remote sensing and analytics, which are making it easier to obtain planning data and information at increasing levels of granularity and across a wider set of geographies. Cell phone-based surveys and remote monitoring are cost-effective ways of filling data gaps, especially as it relates to understanding consumer preferences and energy consumption.

These principles, and more, are examined in greater detail in a workshop report. Workshop outcomes will feed into a set of best practices developed by SEforALL on how governments, their development partners and the private sector can collaborate on improving energy data standards for integrated energy planning.

This article is adapted from a piece published on the SEforALL website.


Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL). 2020.Improved Energy Data: An Unsung Hero for SDG7 Progress. News. 19 October.

SEforALL. 2020. Data Standards for Integrated Energy Planning. Workshop Report. October.

Jem Porcaro
Lead, Integrated Energy Planning and Powering Healthcare, Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll)

Jem has nearly 20 years of experience working at the intersection of energy, climate, and development. He came to SEforALL from the United Nations Foundation, where he led the energy access program. Earlier in his career, he worked at Nexant, where he advised governments and multilateral development organizations in Asia on clean energy finance and policy. He has a master’s degree in International Energy Economics and Policy from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Luc Severi
Senior Energy Access Specialist, Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll)

Luc focuses on the energy access gap in the last mile, particularly for the health sector and the humanitarian sector. He holds a master’s in Commercial Engineering from KULeuven and an MSc Development Management from the London School of Economics. Prior to starting his current position, Luc worked in Mozambique, Senegal, and Liberia, for international NGOs and social enterprises, including SolarNow, Save the Children International, and the United Nations Foundation.

Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL)

Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) is an international organization that works in partnership with the United Nations and leaders in government, the private sector, financial institutions, civil society and philanthropies to drive faster action towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 7—access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030—in line with the Paris Agreement on climate. 

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