Canadian Energy Regulator Data Visualization Project
Canada’s Energy Regulator (CER) is a department of the Canadian government with a mandate to regulate pipelines, energy development and trade across Canada in pursuit of a sustainable energy future. Their decisions factor in economic, environmental and social considerations in all of our lives.
An additional directive from the government to be more transparent and accessible to external audiences (including regulators, investors, pipeline operators and the general public) led the CER to seek innovative ways to structure and share their data.
A successful initial pilot project convinced the CER that a series of custom data visualizations would help them deliver a highly functional, user-friendly solution.
The project was a multi-year endeavour that would see VizworX working closely with multiple stakeholders, from both the client and additional partners, to develop a set of data visualization suites using a large, complex dataset.
One of the most valuable skill sets VizworX brings to the table is formulating and implementing collaboration strategies. For this project, VizworX partnered closely with the NEB as well as a team from iLab, a division of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary specializing in human-computer interaction and data visualization. Together, these groups made up “the team” that saw the project through from strategy to final implementation.
“We build collaboration into all our processes,” said VizworX CEO Jeff LaFrenz. “We use agile methodology and take a highly iterative approach where we make constant improvements based on
ongoing inputs and feedback from our partners.”
Taming the data
With all parties on side, the first task was to clean up the original data set, which included 300,000 rows of CSV data. This fell to the NEB part of the team who then handed it off to the iLab team members to design the visualizations.
The VizworX part of the team then went to work to create the visualizations. “A cool thing about this job is to take mountains of data, that frankly don’t mean much to anyone but a data scientist, and turn
them into something accessible and intuitive. That’s our standard,” said VizworX COO Nav Shergill. “It’s very challenging, but very satisfying.”
Each visualization required a customized solution. “You couldn’t achieve the requirements of this project with off the shelf software,“ said LaFrenz. “We created each visualization from scratch, which takes a high level of expertise and deep experience.” The team created visualizations that are highly interactive. Users can manipulate them in a variety of ways, including using roll-overs or clicks to see different data points and combinations of data. Users can also capture and share images and download associated data.
Accessibility for all
Adding the complexity of the project was the need to ensure the visualizations meet stringent requirements for accessibility. The visualizations support use by persons with visual impairments (including blindness, low vision, poor eyesight and types of colour blindness), as well as those with mobility issues (difficulty or inability in using the hands). The team achieved their accessibility goals by making each visualization usable with just a keyboard or with software that gives users control with specialized accessible technology. “NEB data is for all Canadians We had to make it accessible for everyone,” said Shergill.
The Completed Visualizations
Energy futures: Consisting of five visualizations dealing with historical data (since 2005) and future projections (to 2040) of energy production and consumption trends in each Canadian province.
Pipeline incidents: Providing highly detailed information about pipeline incidents. Users can access actual pipeline data including information on all pipeline incidents in Canada, what substances were released and which companies were involved.
Energy imports and exports: Showing quarterly energy trade data between Canada and the U.S. for full range of energy sources, including electricity, crude oil, natural gas, natural gas liquids and refined petroleum products.
Better internal outcomes
Internally, the data visualizations enable more productive meetings at the CER. They have alleviated disagreements about the veracity and meaning of their data, and anomalies can be spotted immediately because the data is in graphic rather than table form. This allows CER staff (or any user) to concentrate meaningful strategies informed by a more holistic understanding of the data. It adds up to greater organizational efficiency and better outcomes.
Transparency to external audiences
For external users, the VizworX CER data visualizations have satisfied the government’s transparency requirement by enabling a more interactive and user-friendly CER website. “Site visitors can easily find the data they need and ‘slice and dice it’ to suit their needs,“ said Shergill. “We built the visualizations to be easy to use for the broadest possible range of users, from curious members of the general public to sophisticated investors and regulators who are making multi-million – even multi-billion – dollar
VizworX’s CER partners report that they are very pleased with the project output and impact. They are especially pleased that the visualizations won a Government of Canada award for data presentation.
For VizworX, the success of the project is further proof that their customer-focused, team approach – whether applied to government or business clients – continues to deliver great results. “We are very pleased to have provided the value the CER was looking for,” said LaFrenz. “And we’re excited to continue to collaborate with them and the iLab team members to build visualizations that make it easy for Canadians to understand their energy and pipeline systems.”
Lead Design Research: Sheelagh Carpendale and Wesley Willett, iLab, University of Calgary.