Saturday, 11 July 2020

Is Energy Data The Real Winner For Blockchain?

UK based machine learning start-up Verv executed the UK’s first physical energy trade on the blockchain in 2017. Now it’s partnering with Ocean Energy to develop its longer term goal, an energy information marketplace.

Verv sits in a unique position in the blockchain energy market. As its CEO Maria McKavanagh says, the long term goal of the business it to develop a data market rather than purely an energy one. The company was able to steal a march on its rivals due to its smart hubs, which were already being deployed in the marketplace. McKavanagh says, ‘Our advantage is that we’re already in the home. We sample up to 1m times per second allowing us to forward predict energy needs.’

Most smart meters can’t tell if you’re turning on a kettle or a washing machine, and they’ll consume different amounts of power.’ She says, ‘A Verv home is one that plans for the future, knows its usage profile and buys power at the optimum price.'

First UK solar energy trade on the blockchain

The trade took place in 2017, at Hackney’s Banister House Estate. In the trial, currently underway in collaboration with Repowering London, Hackney Banister House Estate had solar panels installed on 13 of the blocks of flats that make up the community.

With the addition of artificial intelligence-based Verv smart hubs in participating residents’ flats, and Powervault batteries in communal areas, Verv’s platform calculates the energy demand profile of homes, determines the solar energy supply in each storage battery and in turn allocates green power to residents based on their needs. The first trade saw 1kWh of energy being sent from an array of solar panels with excess energy on one of the block’s roofs, to a resident residing in another block within the estate.

The system gets around the problem of using proof of work verification, like Bitcoin, by using the proof of authority model. This means that trusted validators confirm the exchange –in this case Hackney Council. It could however be an energy company, or even a battery manufacturer (connecting to EVs).

The proof of authority approach means that the system doesn’t incur the level of extreme energy consumption that has been raised as a concern by commentators. The Verv system connects daily to Ethereum, so that energy consumption is minimised per transaction but still ensuring that proof of trade/exchange becomes immutable.

In terms of scale the system is somewhat limited, as it currently operates in communities of up to 500 houses with one or two validators. This can however be increased by having a series of disparate communities.

One thing McKavanagh has been clear about is the power of data. She believes that enabling people to control and sell their own data, behaviour patterns etc., will not only generate household funds but give data control back to the individual. She says that, ‘We’re on a mission to get everyone’s bill to zero, in exchange for tokens.’

Data and the energy blockchain

Verv has partnered with data sharing ecosystem Ocean Energy to create a new data marketplace for energy. The sampling of data from Verv’s AI smart hub includes data around consumption, renewable tech, purchasing habits, suppliers and home appliances, some of which extends beyond just the energy industry. Ocean uses blockchain to allow data to be shared and sold in a safe, secure and transparent manner.

Regulation and the energy blockchain

The Hackney trial has been shortlisted for the Ofgem Regulatory Sandbox, a program to help Ofgem understand if these new approaches need to be regulated and if so, how? When regulations were first put in place, there was no blockchain. In the UK for example, the generation of power requires a licence. That won’t be appropriate for the prosumer market. The Verv trial is one that Ofgem hopes will help it decide what regulation should look like.

Business models on blockchain

Business models and their effectiveness are going to be key to success on the blockchain. The goal of the company is to keep the customer at the centre of its process, to help them get the best out of their homes. The combination of predictive maintenance possible with 1m checks per second, as well as price optimisation and data control seem to be a compelling proposition. The company is in talks in Dubai and Singapore and hopes to roll out in the US in Q4.

With $110 billion losses reported in the US due to blackouts, there is going to be increasing demand for local generation and micro-grids and companies like Verv are likely to be at the forefront of providing an exchange framework for that demand. As McKavanagh says, ‘We’re interested in bringing clean energy to all. We’re trying to enable what the future should be.’

source: Forbes 

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