Vizzuality are renowned for releasing open data on the web through beautifully designed, interactive, usable applications and tools. We were honoured when Red Electrica de España (REE), operator of Spain’s electricity grid, asked us to help them create their new open data platform, giving the public unprecedented access to real-time data on Spain’s energy grid. Over the last 18 months we have worked with them and the thousands of indicators they monitor to deliver the e·sios (System Information of Operation System): take a look now!
The whole e·sios is huge, helping REE model and manage the power supply across the whole country, liaise with suppliers, coordinate supply with neighbouring countries and loads more besides. We delivered just the public facing element, revealing the performance of the energy market and other interesting data in a way the public can understand.
The main challenge here was all about that data. With thousands of indicators, many updating every 10 minutes, we had to find a way to organise and reveal them so they would actually be found, analysed and understood. This was heightened by the desire to show the data to an audience without a huge amount of experience or technical knowledge. There’s no point committing to open data and transparency if you make it hard for people to actually understand the details and nuance of the data. We also had to build a strong back-end to hold and serve all this data and a performant front-end that keeps people entertained and enchanted by the rich data provided.
So our first consideration was around the progressive revelation of data. The landing page, for example, just shows a couple of the most important indicators for the last day. The data is shown in widgets and the graphs are fully interactive; you can move the slider to a specific time period and the numbers below automatically update. With fast feedback, you feel empowered to explore further, knowing that you’re interactions are changing the information you see.
From there you can navigate to one of the three thematic tabs – generation and consumption, markets and prices, demand management – to get more detailed information. In addition to the main indicators shown on each page, we provide related indicators and documents and suggestions for new avenues to delve deeper into the data. It is here that you can start searching for more indicators, more specialised data on a topic you’re interested in. Say you’re Portuguese and want to know about energy imports and exports to and from Spain: there’s data for that!
This is where things get interesting. You’ve mastered the slider, you’ve looked around, seen what you want to see and you’ve found that dataset you’re really interested in. With our dedicated analysis pages, you can go much deeper into each dataset: filter by time, compare to other indicators, plot it on a map… you’re in control. You can also download the data in a range of formats (csv, json, xls) or share a URL with a friend. We’ll soon have an API ready for you as well, so you can power your own applications with the vast dataset.
It’s this mixture of slow reveal, then giving people exactly what they want when they know what they want, that we think helps make data truly transparent. If you saw all the indicators as soon as you landed, where would you start? Sure if you’re a senior engineer and you’ve been working with these indicators for 20 years, you’d know exactly what you want. But that’s not the spirit of open data. It’s for everyone. So you make sure you cater for every technical level. You start with clear, accessible, understandable presentation at the front then lay a trail of interactions across the site to the more advanced features. That way you make it easier for everyone to dive into the data, not just your technical experts and government advisors.
The whole team has learnt an awful lot from this project and we feel a great sense of achievement. We’re really proud of the site and look forward to showing you some new features really soon!
Go forward and enjoy the world of open data!
Sergio and Jamie