According to the World Economic Forum, in 2016 solar and wind energy became cheaper than fossil fuels, indicating that the battle against global warming could become a lucrative business. The same article indicates that by late 2016, 47 developing countries had updated their energy plans by raising their reusable energy consumption targets to 100 percent. At the same time, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Ma and others invested $1 billion USD in Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund for emerging energy source research.
The World Economic Forum article points out that many new investments in energy infrastructure today go to renewable energy. The biggest investments come from Asia, where India and China have submitted huge projects in solar energy, which became the cheapest renewable energy last year, well ahead of the original forecast. The article also says that most multinational companies have 100 percent green energy adoption targets for their operations.
Substituting the transportation systems in big cities, which used to consume about 50 percent of the total production of fossil fuels, with electrical, intelligent, clean systems can also lead to a drastic decrease in the demand of fossil fuels.
What can technology contribute to this global challenge?
I see several possibilities for how technology could change the energy distribution game in the near future. These include new batteries or generators capable of storing energy surplus, blockchain technology, and intelligent meters (the Internet of Things, or IoT) connected to intelligent grids and distribution networks.
For years, the energy industry has put research into long-lasting batteries that store surplus energy efficiently and in a viable, economical way. These possibilities could elevate consumers into the role of producers and eventually to “suppliers” in the existing energy distribution network.
Blockchain technology uses decentralized data storage to record digital transactions. Instead of having a central administrator, such as a traditional database (controlled by banks, governments, accountants, registries), blockchain has a network of replicated databases, synchronized over the internet and visible to anyone on the web.
The use of intelligent meters (IoT) as nodes for energy consumers and producers makes it possible to track consumption and payments. Smart contracts can initiate the transfer of funds between accounts based on usage data received from each of these meters, ensuring accuracy. Blockchain is intertwined with all of this, documenting the transactions and creating a reliable network of energy tracking.
Blockchain in action
Institutions such as the American LO3 TransActive Grid and the Australian Power Ledger understand the business potential these technologies may represent in the near future. These institutions present solutions for the commercialization of surplus energy produced by any consumer, whether a residence, a condominium, a factory or a farm. Solutions typically allow each unit of electricity to be traced from the point of generation to the point of consumption using the local electricity distribution network. Blockchain combines a tracked energy transaction with a financial transaction, making the process simpler and safer.
In Europe, TenneT, a leading electricity transmission system operator, is concerned about the limitations of conventional energy sources and decided to invest in new ways to produce and supply energy to be ready for the future increase in demand. TenneT joined forces with sonnen, in Germany, and Vandebron, in the Netherlands, to explore a permissioned blockchain network using The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric to integrate flexible capacity supplied by electric cars and household batteries into the electrical grid.
Vandebron is a known 100 percent renewable energy supplier in the Netherlands that has acquired expertise in electric transportation. In the partnership with TenneT, Vandebron clients will make their electric car batteries capacity available to TenneT to balance its grid, without compromising the availability of their car batteries. Blockchain enables each car to participate by recording their availability and their action in response to signals from TenneT.
The sonnen Group is one of the fastest growing companies in Germany, and sonnen eService (the energy branch of sonnen group) already supplies over 60,000 people globally with clean energy. The sonnenCommunity is an online network based on the blockchain idea for sharing self-generated power. To help reduce the instability of wind energy distribution caused by insufficient transmission capacity, a network of residential solar batteries is been formed by sonnen eServices. Blockchain allows the operator from TenneT to view the available pool and activate the batteries according to the grid need. Blockchain also records batteries’ contribution and credit.
Bringing cognitive computing into the mix
Soon, coupling cognitive solutions with intelligent grids will enable consumers and energy distributors to work in partnership, predicting peak consumption and natural phenomena, and locating surplus energy without demand, thus avoiding blackouts and other incidents.
Technology and innovation are helping to break the status quo of the energy industry and make producers and distributors, as well as consumers, review their role in the chain. And who knows, by changing behaviors maybe we can make renewable energy sources more sustainable.
Curious about how to use the Blockchain? IBM Blockchain Developer Center may be a good way to explore and accelerate blockchain application development with free tools, tutorials and community collaboration. There you can also find a very interesting demo video by IBM SW engineer Raheel Zubairy, about how to create a decentralized energy network and to enable transactions using Hyperledger.
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