By Paul Davies, Fiona Maclean and Stuart Davis

Blockchain is more widely recognised as the underlying software technology usedVirtual Currency B - Single for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. This technology is also being increasingly applied to alternative opportunities, including in the energy sector. In its simplest form, a blockchain is a shared, and continually reconciled, database. No central repository of the database exists and, instead it is hosted simultaneously across a network of computers or nodes. This means that each participant in the network has real-time access to a “golden source” of the data stored on the database without the need for trusted intermediaries and costly data reconciliation. Automated code-based processes called “smart contracts” can run off, interact with and update the database in a way that would not be possible without a golden source of data and real-time reconciliation. In the energy sector, this technology can be used to provide an automated transaction model with no or limited third-party intermediaries (as compared to the traditional transaction model which is multi-tiered, involving a provider, a central authority such as the National Grid and the consumer). Blockchain’s ability to track the flow of electrons on a distributed grid, for example, enables their secure and transparent trade between consumers directly. The advent of blockchain could fundamentally change the way consumers use and generate electricity.

An early adoption of blockchain in this context is TransActive Grid, a peer-to-peer distributed energy offering based in Brooklyn. TransActive Grid, amongst other things, enables consumers to buy and sell renewable energy directly to each other by utilising blockchain technology. Homes producing their own energy through solar power, can sell excess energy to neighbours. Smart meters are used to record the level of energy produced, with transactions being effected and recorded through smart contracts. There are also plans to develop an application for consumers so that any excess electricity can be traded efficiently, with consumers specifying the price they are willing to pay. This has opened up a peer-to-peer market which facilitates direct interaction between consumers and it is hoped that this will develop into a local community market for renewable energy. Grid Singularity, based in Austria, is planning to bring a similar, decentralised electricity market to developing countries, to distribute solar power.