Innovation is often found in unexpected quarters.
An example is to be found in Holland, where the Port and Municipality of Rotterdam has founded a blockchain centre, named BlockLab, which is focussed on developing blockchain applications primarily for the energy sector.
The panorama becomes clearer when one learns that energy is Rotterdam’s biggest challenge, which in turn impacts on the port as a major energy user. The centre's other area of focus, logistics, is one in which the city has significant strengths, not least with the port being the largest in Europe and sixth largest in the world.
Soon after its launch in September 2017, BlockLab announced funding support for four blockchain projects – selected from 20 proposal submissions – that were aimed to produce new solutions for the energy market.
Six months on, the four consortia have developed working prototypes, from which two of them – yet to be announced – will gain additional funding and support to validate the prototypes by the end of the year.
The four projects are focussed on the heat market, offshore wind farms, smart meters and prosumer trading of electricity.
The heat market
IT and business service provider CGI and Dutch energy supplier Eneco are developing the use of blockchain technology for the administration of heat supply. The intention is that Eneco’s heating network will become part of the Heat Roundabout South-Holland, an integrated heating system that will eventually serve 500,000 households in the Rotterdam-Hague region.
The prototype is considered a first step towards a decentralised heat market. It is an application that Eneco and various heat suppliers use to build up one reliable administration instead of keeping everything separate and having to check each other. Emphasis has been placed on the safe management and sharing of company-specific trading data.
Data specialist Clearwatts is developing the use of blockchain technology for price information in the wind energy market. In collaboration with the German blockchain developers BigchainDB and Spherity, a platform has been built on which price-relevant information from all stakeholders comes together.
The platform is aimed to simplify the administration, as well as form the basis on which blockchain developers can build new applications for the market.
Peer-to-peer energy market
Developer TOBLOCKCHAIN, in collaboration with French utility ENGIE and The Green Village, is working on a blockchain network for a peer-to-peer energy market in which consumers, companies, network operators and energy suppliers work together.
The company has expanded its basic technology with various applications in which batteries, solar cells, homes and offices exchange energy data. Among other things, a proof of origin module has been developed that validates the origin of energy.
The live demo of PowerToShare is running in The Green Village test environment at TU Delft.
Reliable smart meters
Intrinsic ID, an IoT security company, has developed a technology that allows microchips to demonstrate their unique identity – and therefore also that of the devices in which the chips are installed.
Working with software security company Guardtime, the technology is being applied for use with smart electricity meters and for data exchange via blockchain technology. Such application should ensure the authenticity of both the smart meter as the sender of data and of the data itself.
Commenting on the need to develop such applications, with the potential of blockchain to give impetus to the energy transition, Rotterdam’s Port Authority President and CEO Allard Castelein has said, “This alone makes it very interesting to us.”
The Port of Rotterdam has set itself as a leader of the energy transition and has long been at the forefront of innovation. For example, the port has already started developing an Internet of Things (IoT) with connected devices. Looking towards its future energy needs, the port has joined the consortium to develop an offshore wind hub in the North Sea.
In another initiative with Shell, the port is developing heat pipelines to utilise residual heat generated at the Shell Pernis refinery. This should enable heating for some 16,000 households.
As major energy users, ports also have significant energy efficiency potential. This started to come under investigation in the European Union supported e-harbours project, although subsequently this collaborative activity seems to have dried up. In that project, Amsterdam was the representative Dutch port.
A study undertaken by the Wuppertal research institute on various scenarios towards decarbonisation of the port of Rotterdam found that a ‘business as usual’ approach would achieve a 30% reduction only by 2050 (compared with 2015). Achieving significant decarbonisation in line with the COP 21 Paris Agreement requires developments in areas including offshore wind, demand side management and energy storage, CO2 capture and storage, biobased chemistry and synthetic fuel production.