No one enjoys paying their electricity bill. It keeps going up and up, with a bunch of new nonsense fees thrown on top every few years. What’s worse is that many parts of the world still rely on dirty fossil fuels to produce this energy. By now we have all heard about the potential of solar and other renewables to shake up the energy market, but you might not know that blockchain technology also has its place in the mix.
Several startups are developing projects that integrate blockchain and solar energy. Their ideas range from developing alt-coins for trading and incentivizing power production to using smart contracts for administering energy transactions.
SolarCoin is an eco-minded cryptocurrency that aims to incentivize solar power production. The coin was launched in 2014 and hopes to drive the generation of 97,500 terawatt hours worth of solar power over 40 years. It originally used a proof-of-work system for verification but has since switched over to a proof-of-stake-time system because it is more environmentally friendly. Anyone can mine the coins, from individuals to solar farms. For every 1 MWh of electricity generated (and verified by a third party), the producer recieves one SolarCoin. Solar farms wanting to earn extra income by generating SolarCoin coins for the power they produce don’t have to pay anything to participate, and SolarCoin does not take any of the power; it merely provides the coins as an incentive to produce clean energy.
Granted, one SolarCoin is worth under 7 cents at the time of writing, but then Bitcoin was only worth about 30 cents when it was the same age. The hope is that enough people will have confidence in the coin to give it real value and allow it to be used in transactions. While Bitcoin famously takes large amounts of electricity to mine, SolarCoin incentivizes a responsible use of energy.
ElectricChain, an affiliate of SolarCoin, is also working on a number of blockchain- and solar-based projects. Its main aim is to “build the world’s largest open scientific solar monitoring device with the SolarCoin blockchain.” It plans to use this system for various scientific and financial purposes. One of its current projects is to integrate current solar panel investors into the ElectricChain and SolarCoin. It hopes this program will speed up the transition to cleaner energy.
Back in 2002, Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) were created to incentivize investment in renewable energy. An REC is a certificate that proves 1 megawatt hour of electricity has been produced by renewable sources. Solar farms and other renewable electricity providers issue RECs to represent the amount of clean energy they have generated. They then sell them to utility companies, which are required to use certain levels of renewable power.
The problem with this system is that the amount of renewable energy produced is calculated by estimates and projections. This then leads to some very creative accounting practices, and the reality is that less renewable energy is being made and used than the certificates might say.
IDEO CoLab, along with Nazdaq and Filament, have partnered up to solve this problem. Smart Solar is their collaborative project. It uses blockchain technology and the Internet of Things to allow solar panels to calculate their own levels of energy production and then issue RECs to the owner. They have already constructed a prototype, which proves it is possible to incentivize solar energy without such a convoluted system.
Traditional grids are a logistical nightmare. Transferring power from where it is generated to where it is needed and accommodating the peaks and troughs is immensely complex. The other downside is that citywide grids are vulnerable. In an event like Hurricane Sandy, a whole network can go down, bringing an entire city to a halt and endangering people’s lives.
Microgrids are a new option for delivering electricity. They aim to promote cost-effective, secure, sustainable energy production and distribution in a local area. Brooklyn Microgrid is just one such project that is testing the waters, and it’s doing so with blockchain.
The system will use Ethereum, a public blockchain platform with a smart contract functionality that permits microgrid users to commit to contracts that cannot be falsified or misrepresented. The service will automatically update transactions and energy use in real-time using a cryptographically secure list.
Brooklyn Microgrid also hopes to boost the amount of clean energy that is produced within its local community. It can manage energy production and distribution throughout emergencies and blackouts, helping to keep the community safe and the economy running. Brooklyn Microgrid also offers financial incentives for investment in clean energy, which assists in keep the community green and helps to provide more environmentally friendly jobs.
Blockchain and solar: Just the beginning of a clean energy partnership
With the continued push towards renewable resources, blockchain technology provides a way to further incentivize and account for clean energy production. There are many startups currently experimenting with combining the two in innovative ways. Now is just the beginning, but there is potential for blockchain and solar to contribute to the world in numerous ways, from the local community to the globe on a grand scale.
Ameer Rosic is CEO of Blockgeeks, a blockchain innovation hub. Follow him on Twitter: @AmeerRosic.
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