Blockchain and IoT – looking towards industry standards

Engerati investigates the industry alliances that are advancing blockchain for the energy sector.

As with any new technology, the emergence of blockchain is giving rise to a growing number of industry ‘alliances’ or ‘consortiums’ which are looking to build out a technology as a standard.

With the emergence of the latest, the Trusted IoT Alliance, we now have three such alliances associated to the energy space – in addition to the growing number of companies with their own blockchain platforms – that are developing anticipated standards either directly for or as an application in the sector.

What do these do and how they do fit together?

Energy Web Foundation

First up – and the most focused on energy – is the Energy Web Foundation (EWF).

Founded by the Austrian blockchain technology developer Grid Singularity and the US Rocky Mountain energy research institute, the aim is to build out Grid Singularity’s technology into an open blockchain platform to support applications for the energy sector.

Or to quote from its website: “The intent of EWF, through its Energy Web Platform, is to develop a market standard that ensures interoperability, reduces costs and complexity, aligns currently dispersed blockchain initiatives, and facilitates technology deployment through easy-to-implement applications.”

To undertake its work, the Foundation is being supported by ten leading ‘affiliate’ energy organisations from across the globe, including both utilities and oil and gas companies.

As part of its work, the EWF is identifying promising applications for the sector, with the necessary functionalities to run these to be ensured within the platform. Priority application domains have been identified as utility billing, renewable energy certificates of origin, demand response and transactive energy.

Other shortlisted application domains – identified from roughly 200 energy-specific blockchain applications being explored by organisations across the globe – include the management of electric vehicle batteries and charging infrastructure, supply chain tracking for utilities and wholesale market settlement.

Enterprise Ethereum Alliance

The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) is the largest of the blockchain alliances, growing from more than 30 founding organisations to more than 150 members across multiple industry sectors since March 2017.

The EEA is, from its name, focused on the Ethereum blockchain – so far, the most popular for energy sector implementations. The aim is to evolve the technology to enterprise grade with a focus on “privacy, confidentiality, scalability and security”.

The Alliance also is investigating hybrid architectures that span both permissioned and public Ethereum networks as well as industry specific application layers.

So far, at least, energy is not a major focus area for the EEA and there are few energy sector members, although that may change. Current focuses, indicated by the working groups, are the banking, insurance, law, healthcare, advertising and supply chain sectors.

Nevertheless, with the nature of blockchain any outcomes will be of interest with potential for applicability in the energy sector.

Trusted IoT Alliance

The latest of the alliances to officially launch is the Trusted IoT Alliance, which seeks to “catalyse the development of a blockchain-enabled, trusted Internet of Things (IoT)”.

This is to be achieved by bringing companies together to “develop and set the standard for an open source blockchain protocol to support IoT technology in major industries worldwide” – of which energy is named as one.

The first output from the alliance is a common registration protocol supporting Ethereum, Quorum and Hyperledger blockchain implementations.

Quorum is an Etherium based blockchain protocol that was developed within the financial services industry, while Hyperledger is focussed primarily on finance and healthcare so far.

The protocol allows users to register multiple kinds of ‘weak’ identities, such as serial numbers, QR codes and UPC code identities, and bind them to stronger cryptographic identities, which are immutably linked across both physical and digital worlds using blockchain technology.

According to an alliance statement, this should “fundamentally change the approaches to computing that underpin today's IoT device identities, sensor data and business logic.”

Among the proof of concept projects under way by members of the group is smart vehicle charging, while smart meters are listed as a potential use case for M2M payments.

Another project which Cisco is exploring, is using the protocol to register device identities and associated data - a concept with parallels to that investigated by UK based Electron for meter registration.

The Trusted IoT Alliance is clearly complementary to the EEA and this is reflected in the number of companies that are members of both, among them key players such as Cisco and Consensys. As an emerging technology, collaboration rather than competition should be key for blockchain.