An open blockchain platform for the energy industry

US-Austrian initiative Energy Web Foundation aims to accelerate blockchain technology development in the energy sector.
Published: Tue 07 Mar 2017

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Blockchain is fast emerging as what could be the ‘enabler’ of the transactive energy world that will underpin the future distributed electricity system of decentralised generation with prosumers and other players and multiple power flows.

Driven largely by industry startups, in some cases expanding their scope from the financial world, where blockchain had its origins, the potential is huge.

A recent survey of German industry executives identified more than 110 potential use cases for blockchain in the energy sector. (Notably also the survey found that more than half of respondents either had implemented or were planning to implement blockchain activities.)

However, the technology is still very much at an early stage. Currently the number of blockchain in energy use cases under test remains limited and involves no more than a handful of utilities, albeit quite widely geographically spread from Europe to Australia.

These tests also are characterised by individual applications which are being run either on a proprietary platform or most commonly, the open Ethereum platform.

Energy Web Foundation

It is this ‘proprietary’ approach that is behind a new initiative from the US energy research organisation Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Austrian blockchain developer Grid Singularity.

Named the Energy Web Foundation, the goal of this Swiss registered non-profit foundation is “to unleash the potential of blockchain in the energy sector.”

“At RMI, we believe that blockchain technology has the potential to play a significant, potentially game-changing role in the global electricity system’s transition to a more secure, resilient, cost-effective, and low-carbon grid,” writes electricity and transportation practices Principal Jesse Morris in a blog posting.

Open blockchain platform

The opportunity envisaged with the Energy Web Foundation is for energy market participants to jointly fund and develop a single open source blockchain platform for the global energy sector.

This will be based on core technology provided by Grid Singularity and effectively will be the next generation Ethereum platform for the sector, said co-founder Erwin Smole, speaking in an Engerati blockchain webinar.

Features will include handling the high volume of transactions and the near real-time response requirements, which are a characteristic of the energy market, and the range of products that are anticipated.

In addition, the foundation intends to identify and assess blockchain use cases, such as those identified in the German survey and others, to establish their technical requirements and the market value they unlock.

It also aims to incubate an ecosystem of application users, developers, and infrastructure providers to bring together the currently dispersed efforts.

An educational role is also envisaged for regulators, standards bodies, and other stakeholders.

Industry support for blockchain

The foundation is looking for 10 corporate ‘Affiliates’ to support its activities, with so far six places filled, including Engie from France, Tepco from Japan, TWL from Germany, Stedin from the Netherlands and Stanford University from the US.

Activities envisaged for the foundation include hackathons, boot camps and an annual industry conference.

Given blockchain’s novelty – and potential – in the energy sector, it is obviously an exciting time to be involved and significant further developments are expected in the current year.

But as RMI’s Morris reminds in his blog posting: “Even to blockchain experts, it’s still unclear exactly where the technology’s value lies and what the roadmap to commercial implementation looks like in the energy sector.”

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