Energy blockchains - what's new

Sell out token sales, peer-to-peer trading, a test network and network balancing are in sight for blockchain in the energy sector.

As befits an emerging technology barely a day goes by without some new development on the energy blockchain, which are fast driving forward the use of the technology in our sector..

Energy blockchain token sales

With the emergence of so many new companies with cryptocurrency purchase offerings (technically initial coin offerings or ICO), investors should be looking carefully into what they are investing in what is a largely unregulated environment.

Yet the appetite for such opportunities, in essence a form of crowdfunding with the prospect of a future profit, is clearly there, as two current offerings, albeit with something of a track record, illustrate.

Grid+, a spinoff from blockchain pioneer ConsenSys, proposes to introduce the concept of a digital utility to link consumers to wholesale markets. By eliminating the typical retailer overheads, Grid+ believes it can up to halve the price of electricity. The intention is to launch in Texas in 2018 and then to expand both in the US and internationally, as well as to build out a peer-to-peer marketplace.

Grid+ is currently running a sale for its GRID token, of which 90m of the total 300m tokens are allocated to a pre-sale which ran in early September and public sale starting on 30 October (the remainder being retained for customer acquisition, present and future staff and the company’s owners). The nominal price of the tokens is $1.15 and the redemption value is 500kW of electricity at wholesale price.

The numbers involved in the pre-sale haven’t been divulged, but company tweets suggest a capacity interest was recorded for those first 45m tokens within a matter of hours. While participants were given a discount of up to 35% on the token price, a minimum $50,000 investment was required along with a legal obligation process to contribute the amount within a specified timeframe – netting Grid+ approximately $40m according to Cryptocoinsnews.

Australia’s first energy ICO

Australia based Power Ledger has reported similar interest in its first pre-sale ICO – and the first in Australia – with the 100m POWR tokens on offer selling out in a little over three days – and 25% of those in the first hour. Together with the 90m tokens sold to strategic investors, these netted the company Au$17m (US$13.4m).

“Demand has significantly exceeded our expectations,” says co-founder and Managing Director, Dave Martin. “As the first Australian ICO, we’ve been breaking new ground, and have been unable to rely on precedent to help us set targets. We initially hoped to conservatively sell up to $20million, but the strength of the market response has been absolutely phenomenal.”

A further 140m tokens are up for grabs in the main sale, which is currently under way. In all, 1bn tokens have been created, with the balance for future developments and for the developers and founders.

Power Ledger is a startup which has been pioneering peer-to-peer trading in Australasia in a growing number of trials in both Australia and New Zealand during the past year.

The intent of the token sales is to rapidly accelerate the company’s expansion, both into new, especially emerging markets, and new applications including microgrids, wholesale market settlement, electric vehicle trading and carbon trading.

Among Power Ledger’s latest activities are peer-to-peer trading trials with Australian energy retailer Origin Energy and Tasmanian renewable company Nest Energy, and an agreement with the Indian IT company Tech Mahindra to trial microgrid as a service among the booming urban population in that country.

Peer-to-peer trading in the Netherlands

Peer-to-peer trading is also set to pilot in the Netherlands, with the launch of the first energy sharing token.

Named the ‘Jouliette’ after the Joule unit of energy measurement, the token’s use will be trialled in a microgrid setting in the De Ceuvel community in Amsterdam, which has become known as a showcase for sustainable urban development.

The goal of the pilot is to investigate whether blockchain technology can be harnessed to create greater social value and to support a bottom-up movement in the transition towards 100% renewable energy supply, according to the project website.

The Jouliette has been developed by the Amsterdam-based smart energy company Spectral and Dutch distribution system operator Alliander.

“In general society looks at big solutions when it comes to the transition towards a renewable energy system, like big offshore wind farms. That makes the energy transition intangible, expensive and out of reach for many people,” says Pallas Achterberg, Strategy Director at Alliander.

“We want a cost neutral acceleration in the renewable transition, and perhaps even one with a cost reduction. But then we need a decentralised model which facilitates greater local interaction and incentivises direct peer to peer exchange of renewable energy. We look forward to exploring how concepts like the Jouliette can help lead the transition we need to see.”

In addition to energy trading, the community expects to explore further applications for the Jouliette, such as trading for goods at the De Ceuvel Cafe, facilitating a local time-banking system, and integrating a car-sharing programme.

Energy blockchain test​ network

On its way to developing an open blockchain platform for the energy sector, the industry supported Energy Web Foundation (EWF) has released its first output – a test network of its blockchain and application layer, constructed as a public network with permissioned validators.

The test network, codenamed Tobalaba, uses Parity Technologies’ Aura Proof-of-Authority consensus engine, enabling designated authorities to validate transactions following a jointly agreed governance structure, a statement says.

Companies that have already set up validator nodes on the system include EWF affiliate members Singapore Power Group, Engie, and Shell, together with the founders Grid Singularity and Rocky Mountain Institute and implementation partners Parity Technologies, Brainbot AG and Slock.it.

According to the statement, the Parity Ethereum client is currently the most advanced, fastest and lightest full-node Ethereum implementation, with features and functionality fine-tuned to address the needs of energy sector applications.

The newly developed permissioning features enable whitelisting of smart contracts and identities. Another important objective is to enhance transaction throughput, consensus algorithms, and create enterprise-grade deployment tooling and storage features.

The source code will be released publicly from 1 November 2017.

Blockchain for network balancing

Last but not least in this roundup, London based Electron has been awarded “substantial funding” from the government's Energy Entrepreneur Fund to prove how blockchain can transform the market for balancing the electricity grid.

With the grant, which was supported by National Grid and Siemens, Electron will scale and integrate a blockchain trading platform that allows electricity consumers to be paid to adjust their energy consumption to balance supply and demand in a system, according to a statement.

Unlike traditional trading platforms that match buyers and sellers on a one-to-one basis, Electron’s platform leverages blockchain technology to allow multiple parties to coordinate and share the value of a single consumer’s action. Named by the company as ‘collaborative trading’, the aim is to maximise the overall value and liquidity of the flexibility market, at the same time as enabling individual purchasers of flexibility to share costs.

Electron has been investigating several novel use cases with its blockchain platform, including meter registration and customer switching.

Electron was named among the top 30 technology pioneers for 2017 by the World Economic Forum. The company also was named as the winner of the Initiate! award for innovative startups at European Utility Week 2017.