The Benefits Of Democratizing Big Data

In places like Venezuela, electronic interactions may be a more reliable source of information than the government.

Storing the cloud in Inner Mongolia
Storing the cloud in Inner Mongolia


CARACAS — Big data is defined as the enormous mass of digital information produced by electronic interactions via mobile phones, online transactions and social networking.

In the face of the ever expanding volume of unstructured data, the challenge lies in giving an efficient structure to the gathered information that can serve multiple uses. Geolocalization, for example, can be used to gather detailed information on frequent users of the subway, a motorway or an establishment. And free mobile applications can be used to carry out surveys or gather economic data, or even integrate various sources of cloud data.

Yet in spite of these advantages, economic science has lagged considerably in spotting the relevance this information mine has for gauging the impact of public policies or discerning economic behavior, partly because of the conventional practices of requiring that every bit of data is strictly reliable when elaborating behavior and prediction models.

Alberto Cavallo and Rigoberto Ribobon of MIT have proposed the idea of creating price indices by obtaining data from online retail pages. Indeed, soon we may no longer need the official data of central banks to know the state of inflation in a country, a city or region, or for sectors or particular items. This offers enormous advantages for economists in countries like Venezuela, where governments deprive civil society of official economic data, pressuring it to construct the data it lacks by its own means.

But while Big Data offers advantages for economists in controlled environments, it can be a double-edged sword: It poses the risk that governments can take over the sources of the data, such as information platforms, and can perfect their ability to control it.

Through a series of seminars and information events, the UN's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) is currently promoting use of Big Data as a regional development tool. Big Data offers advantages, the UN body argues, in critical areas such as healthcare, jobs, productivity, security or disaster management. From CEPAL's perspective, Big Data provides an important innovative possibility in business management, public services, development and the monitoring of public policies.

The World Bank, for its part, is discussing how mass data can help fight poverty, including the use of geographical monitoring and analysis of online search habits. Yet, to keep its credibility and relevance, data must be filtered with conventional statistical methods to reduce seasonality or perturbation correlations.

Access to data in real time can reduce the gap between rich and poor.

The expansion of the digital economy in Latin America and the Caribbean region can have advantages in promoting transparency, limiting corruption and measuring the impact of strategic projects. It's worth noting that between 2003 and 2015, Internet users increased in the region by almost 60%, and there are now more than 700 million mobile phone lines in the region.

Big Data and real time information analysis are new sources of value creation: They allow market segmentation that can guide products toward the right customers; encourage innovative business and production models; help create products to suit customer needs, and improve transparency and economic efficiency.

Big Data availability and its analysis in real time are becoming essential elements in economics, as bases for decisions and efficient resource allocation, and even as production levers in strategic sectors. It can also help contribute to sustainable development goals, acting as the technological support to check on their progression, monitor government actions and provide the public with responses in real time.

Access to data in real time can dramatically reduce differences between developed and less developed states, between the rich and the poor and public and private institutions. These can in turn help curb rights violations by governments, as information is power distributed more equitably between persons worldwide, and strengthen democracy by ensuring access to information for the disadvantaged sectors of society.

The potential of economies to grow on the basis of efficient use of data will evidently depend on the speed and advances of their telecommunication systems, and especially on how fairly IT resources and intelligent devices are distributed. And while some countries may insist, archaically, on restricting or censoring information, the future bends toward liberty.

Economists understand it already, but now they must align their own field with this advance. What's at stake is no less than the growth and sustainability of the economy in our region, and the world.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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