The blockchain could serve as the foundation of a system for connecting energy grids, delivering more efficient and environmentally sustainable energy, according to Greentechmedia.com, a news site for the global clean energy market. One company, L03 Energy, is building an “open source cryptographically secure” blockchain to manage transactions across a microgrid.
Lawrence Orsini, the founder of L03 Energy, said the blockchain’s impact on energy could be much bigger than bitcoin. L03 Energy has built two nodes collecting generation and consumption data across the microgrid and sending it to the blockchain. Orsini said the nodes are not yet ready for “prime time,” but they are up and running.
Orsini was part of a group of energy professionals and blockchain enthusiasts that gathered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently to explore how blockchain can impact the energy system. Scott Clavenna, CEO of Greentechmedia, moderated the forum.
Thus far, the blockchain’s application to the electric grid is mainly theoretical. Some participants are designing authentication systems for appliances and energy. At this point, people are mainly attempting to determine where the blockchain can apply and how to launch it.
Chris Taylor, a senior dispatcher at NRG Energy Inc., said he has been studying the blockchain for around four years and has realized it has potential implications for many industries, such as energy. He called the blockchain one of the most significant transitions in human history.
Craig Muraskin and David Schatsky, researchers at Deloitte LLP, published a Deloitte University Press article on how the blockchain is expanding into different industries. They provided an explanation of why the concept is attractive. The technology provides a way to record transactions or any digital interaction in a manner that is designed to be transparent, auditable, highly-resistant to outages, transparent and efficient.
Muraskin and Schatsky noted there is not much happening in energy at present, but observers argue that energy is an industry that blockchain can transform.
Joi Ito, the director of MIT’s media lab, said, “We can turn bitcoin into almost anything” while speaking on a panel of blockchain and energy experts during the forum.
Samsung and IBM in January released a platform called ADEPT for controlling connected devices based on the blockchain concept. The platform uses software that Ethereum developed that authenticates smart contracts. The contracts could be microtransactions between appliances inside a home as they react autonomously and instantaneously to changing grid conditions.
Paul Brody, the leader of the technology strategy arm at Ernst & Young, called this “device democracy.”
In a draft white paper on device democracy, IBM wrote that a washer using ADEPT can become a semi-autonomous device that can manage its own consumable supply, perform maintenance and self-service, and negotiate with other peer devices inside and outside the home to optimize its environment.
Brody, who worked at IBM and helped to build the ADEPT platform, said blockchain is a starting point for addressing the need for a new way to manage connected devices for the Internet of Things.
All smart devices in a network, possibly connected by ADEPT, could securely send and receive data while reacting to market signals, all hidden from the consumer, Brody noted. Consumers will not care if appliances run on the blockchain.
Grid Singularity, a Vienna-based startup, is also exploring the blockchain to authenticate energy transactions. The company is focusing on developing nations to make “pay-as-you-go” solar more secure. The goal is to develop a blockchain platform for energy systems that can apply to any transaction on the grid.
Ed Hesse, CEO and co-founder of Grid Singularity, does not see other platforms as competitors at present. He said he envisions many different blockchains that overlap.
Investors like IBM are investing funds to test and see how the blockchain can apply to the Internet of Things and to energy – now that bitcoin has proven that the blockchain can work.
No one has an exact answer for how the blockchain can apply to other industry sectors. There are more theories than real world examples.
Regulators might like being able to use the blockchain to monitor the grid, but they haven’t begun to address how to support it. There will be a lot of “fumbling in the dark” until someone finds a solution, Brody said. Experts agree that “big thinking” is as crucial as finding early adoption cases for the energy blockchain. Ito said it would be a waste only to use the blockchain for meter billing.
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