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Revive aging power grids with blockchain: A new model for energy flexibility

With more intermittent energy systems stressing a power grid that’s not prepared for new energy patterns, blockchain can offer relief.

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When the signal goes down, society comes to a halt

Current power grids are structured for a world that no longer exists. A world where a limited number of large, controllable power plants continually generate power, and distribution system operators (DSOs) deliver megawatt power loads through a traditional top-down grid structure. Adding to the problem is a rapidly aging power grid at risk of cyber-attacks and other disruptions. In the design of a network that serves a major region or an entire country, even rare calamitous events must be avoided.

In the best interests of society, systems operations balancing across multiple transmission and distribution grids should be managed holistically. This makes the grid more resilient by unlocking decentralized assets. As more and more intermittent energy sources stress a power grid that’s not prepared for new energy patterns, blockchain and other technologies can offer relief. By applying intelligence, transparency, and automation to existing systems, these new digital technologies can help to mitigate the massive capital investments that would be required to re-architect the physical grid.

Power to the people

Energy delivery is ever-evolving with more distributed choices and electricity produced where it’s needed, at the right time and with the right resource. But decentralized energy resources, such as solar cells, wind turbines and batteries often can’t provide energy during a grid blackout. These devices are controlled at the edge, or not at all. They lack the functions and intelligence to properly respond. Should a grid or communication network failure occur, decentralized power generation equipment, control systems, and phones are often disconnected and ineffective.

Consumers have taken to producing electricity themselves, en masse, installing decentralized energy resources that turn wind, sunlight, and other energy sources into electric power, and batteries that store it. By doing so, large numbers of relatively small kilowatt sized loads are fed into the grid at low and medium voltage points that traditionally only consumed electricity. These “prosumers” come in all shapes and sizes, including family households; businesses using their rooftops to install solar panels; farmers installing windmills and solar panels on parts of their land where electricity generation is more profitable than traditional agricultural activities; and companies that used to discharge heat generated by their primary production process, but now use it as a valuable by-product that generates electricity delivered to the grid.

Decentralized energy producers usually deliver their power to the grid, where it flows to those who consume it. When a disruption occurs, delivery of decentralized power to the grid is halted, as uncontrolled flows in the grid can lead to hazardous situations. Those generating the power can’t use it themselves. However, in the autonomous grid model, decentralized network management capabilities are automatically activated at lower levels in the networks, allowing for matching local generation and consumption.

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Meet the authors

Alex Bausch

Connect with author:

, Bausch-Ritter, Business Leader in the Blockchain and Communications Industry

Louis de Bruin

Connect with author:

, IBM Blockchain Thought Leader

Utpal Mangla, IBM Global Leader Watson AI, IoT, and Blockchain

Jos Röling

Connect with author:

, IBM Energy, Environment, and Utility Blockchain CTO

Veena Pureswaran

Connect with author:

, Global Blockchain Research Leader, IBM Institute for Business Value

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