ZEIT ONLINE Energy Monitor

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Germany

Publishing organisation: Zeit Online

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-04-14

Language: German

Authors: Jakob Bauer, Paul Blickle, Annick Ehmann, Christian Endt, Elena Erdmann, Carla Grefe-Huge, Valentin Peter, Julian Stahnke, Julius Tröger, Rina Wahls


Christian Endt has been working as a Senior Data Journalist in the Data and Visualization department at Zeit Online in Berlin since April 2021, where he is responsible for quantitative analyses. He was previously at the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” in Munich, most recently as head of the data team. Endt studied mathematics and physics in Augsburg.

Project description:

How much gas does Germany save? Will the storage facilities last through the winter? How are the prices for gas, electricity and gasoline developing? Will enough wind turbines and solar plants be built to achieve the energy turnaround? ZEIT ONLINE’s energy monitor answers these and other questions with daily updated data in a separate article (zeit.de/energiemonitor) and as a dashboard directly on the homepage (www.zeit.de).

Impact reached:

ZEIT ONLINE was the first medium in Germany to visualize all important key figures on energy supply in Germany and to classify them in data-based analyses. The focus is on both the acute gas crisis and the medium-term transformation to a climate-neutral energy system. We always compare the actual development with targets resulting, for example, from the Energy Security Act or climate targets.

For the first time, key figures from various authorities, companies and NGOs have been compiled and made as easy as possible for non-experts in the field to understand. With the Energy Monitor, we have tapped into new data sources that have now become standard in reporting in Germany.

The Energy Monitor not only maps data from various sources, but also contains its own, exclusively calculated indicators. For example, we calculate a value for gas savings adjusted for the effect of fluctuating temperatures. To do this, we link gas consumption data with temperature measurements from the German Meteorological Service and apply to them a statistical model that we developed ourselves in the editorial office. We have derived an expansion path for solar and wind energy with annual expansion targets up to the year 2030 from the requirements of the Renewable Energy Sources Act. Every day, we scrape an extensive national register of all power generation units to compare the expansion actually realized with these targets.

The Energy Monitor provides numerous readers with important orientation in the energy crisis that also threatens many private households. We know from numerous discussions that the Energy Monitor is also used intensively as a source of information by the top echelons of government, the energy industry and the scientific community.

Techniques/technologies used:

The Energy Monitor shows data sets from very different authorities and institutions. Using scripts in Python and R, we regularly query our sources, prepare the data, and store it in a central PostgreSQL database. To make the database accessible to the frontend, we use a Hasura instance. Through it, we can flexibly retrieve our data via GraphQL.

We develop the frontend with React and the Javascript library D3. A self-developed build tool based on Vite allows us to render a large part of the energy monitor on the server side. This way, the energy monitor loads faster and is also easily readable by search engines.

For the many graphics and maps in the energy monitor, we use data wrappers. This allows us to quickly and easily customize the look of our displays. We update the graphics with Python and R scripts via the Datawrapper API.

Context about the project:

The energy crisis is seen as a very big, historic challenge, especially in Germany. A good overview of the current situation is crucial here.

However, in the German federal government, in public authorities and in many large companies, working with data is severely underdeveloped. As a result, there is also a lack of up-to-date, comprehensive and well-prepared data in the energy sector. This gap is filled by the ZEIT ONLINE Energy Monitor, which is why it is used intensively not only by the general readership but also by decision-makers in government, administration and industry. The Energy Monitor is constantly being further developed. This is always done in consultation with the large community directly in the comments. This unique collaboration between readers and editors makes it possible to always adapt the overview to their information needs.

This dialog with the community has resulted in new charts and features, such as a constantly updated classification of the situation written by an editor, in order to be able to read up on all relevant developments on a weekly basis, even if one has not otherwise followed the news.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

The Energy Monitor is not limited to visualizing data in charts and dashboards. It is the starting point for numerous data-based analyses written in the editorial department week after week. This linking of dashboards and more in-depth articles allows data journalism to develop its full power.

By now, the Energy Monitor database consists of dozens of data sets that can be used by the editorial team at any time as a data source for breaking news in the liveblog, advanced analyses and interactive tools for the most important topic of the year (zeit.de/energiewende-daten-visualisierungen).

Specifically, we rely internally on the concept of “data stringers” (first heard in 2013 at the Mozilla Festival in London). Via Slackbot, the editorial team is alerted to the achievement of certain target values in the current data. For example, when the gas levels reached 100% for the first time, we were the first to announce this on the newsdesk.

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