A decade ago, the first version appeared to forge a digital currency called bitcoin , sponsored by Satoshi Nakamoto, the name of an individual or collective identity. Its registration was based on an electronic log called blockchain , which recorded the generation and movement of each cryptocurrency. Now, the blockchain is beginning to move out of the realm of digital money to extend to activities as varied as energy distribution, fighting corruption, diamond tracking or trafficking of threatened species, value chains and water consumption. , as she tries to shed the blanket of hype surrounding her.
The Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution of the World Economic Forum (WEF), consultancy PwC and the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University published their report Building Blockchains for a Better Planet in September . Among the more than 60 applications identified, the report found several small-scale uses for the generation, distribution, and sale of renewable energy among consumers and generators.
“The level of knowledge is still low, so far it has focused on the financial sector. But there is a lot of innovation. In 10 or 15 years, we will see more cross-cutting applications, ”says Sheila Warren of the FEM. The expert highlights that the elimination of intermediaries in the chain and the construction of accountability and transparency will enrich the value of the entire system. Until now, the technology used to mine bitcoins has been more of an environmental drag , due to the enormous energy resources it takes to generate each coin.
The document mentions at least three blockchain and renewable energy projects undertaken by companies in Bangladesh, Slovenia and the United States, consisting of peer-to-peer or user-to-user platforms to market alternative energy. In this way, they promote a decentralized market for the efficient use of residential energy.
The American LO3 Energy and Siemens Digital Grid created the Exergy platform, with which they operate a microgrid in the New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. A neighbor who generates excess energy with his solar panels can sell it to a neighbor or inject it into the microgrid. The blockchain records those operations and indicates what is the time of day with the best price to exchange the fluid. Similarly, a consumer who wants to purchase renewable service can do it the same way. In this way, they promote sustainable use, efficiency and low prices. Decentralized accounting maintains the record, which can be consulted by market participants, without the possibility of alteration or falsification.
SunContract raised funds by selling coupons expressed in cybercurrencies, such as bitcoin. With them you can buy solar energy on the company’s virtual platform or pay at cafes and shops linked to the Slovenian Bitcoin Association. The decentralized platform links independent renewable energy generators with consumers through an application (App) who pays with the certificates. All operations are registered transparently in digital accounting.
In Bangladesh, one of the few initiatives carried out in developing countries, SOLshare, a consumer-to-consumer platform, is based on this technology to provide electricity to homes, connected with digital meters to the microgrid, and whose transactions are carried out with an app. In this digital record, data such as trade flows, prices and hours of operations appear.
One of the blockchain-based ideas that has taken off is SolarCoin, created in 2014 by a group of volunteers who gave life to the eponymous foundation to globally expand solar generation. A SolarCoin equals one megawatt per hour of solar electricity, calculated based on verified readings from residential meters. Due to its endowment, a generator receives digital money, which can be saved or converted to bitcoin, although its purpose is not to foster a decentralized financial system. The organization maintains a public book that records each cryptocurrency delivered to generators. The project has promoted 2,100 gigawatt hours of solar generation in 46 nations and has emitted 11 million SolarCoins in 68 countries.
The proliferation of these technologies can help to expand renewable energy and, by the way, contribute to achieving goal seven of 17 of Sustainable Development, which underpin the 2030 Development Agenda. That goal proclaims the establishment of “affordable and clean energy”.
Large energy corporations also contemplate blockchains for their operations. In 2017, the blockchain developer for energy Grid Singularity and the Rocky Mountain Institute founded the Energy Web Foundation, with the aim of accelerating the introduction of this technology in energy deployment and bringing together large transnational companies such as Engie, PG&E, Sempra, Duke Energy , Tepco, Shell and Statoil. More than 30 companies use their Tobalaba test platform for energy transactions, microgrids, renewable trade, and electric vehicle charging.
But so much fanfare does not yet translate into money that lubricates the energy machinery. In the first quarter of this year, 412 blockchain projects attracted some $ 3.3 billion via ICO. But less than 1% of these ventures are located in the field of energy, which represents about 100 million dollars of investment.
Regionally, there is a greater weight of some developed and emerging economies, such as the United States, Germany, Canada, France, China and Russia, in the concentration of blockchain initiatives in energy, while very few raise their heads in Latin America, Asia and Africa. This imbalance is not accidental, given the technological and energy developments in those regions.
For the Mexican Iván Razo, an expert in this type of initiative, the difficulty of accessing knowledge and economic resources and lack of incentives limit the development of these ventures in developing nations. “If you want to master all the details of an implementation, you need more experience and knowledge that you can’t always access,” he explains.
Advanced countries are poles that attract talent, because “developing a software architecture that complies with national and international standards, in addition to requiring experts in software development, also requires financial resources to support the development of the solution that is taken into account. mind”.
In an article published on July 30, Varun Sivaram and Madison Freeman, associate researchers on energy and US foreign policy at the US Council on Foreign Relations, predict that the blockchain will focus mainly on the sale of energy between consumers and between networks. utilities, followed by energy financing, verification of its sustainable origin and charging of electric vehicles.
In the coming years, the focus will be on solving technical limitations and regulatory and legal challenges, as today there are different approaches to cryptocurrencies: from the ban in South Korea to their free movement in other jurisdictions.
The report from the FEM, PwC and the Woods Institute points out challenges of technological adoption, computer barriers, security risks, legal and regulatory challenges, interoperability with other programs and energy consumption. Before them, it presents a series of recommendations to address the excessive energy consumption of these systems, the data leak, the unexpected effects and their possible global reach. “The scheme generates incentives, especially economic ones, for all the actors in the system: producers, buyers and managers of the network. The gains are the same if they continue with the traditional incentives and the consumer pays low prices, “emphasizes Razo.