“The distributed ledger that is blockchain will facilitate fast switching and distributed demand-side response”

Increasingly it is becoming evident that a significant transformation is underway in energy systems around the globe, driven by cheaper renewable power which is connecting at all levels of the distribution system. At the same time, these renewables are increasing the need for storage and demand-side response services in order to balance the grid, at each level: household, community, distribution and transmission.

Into this transformational change, comes an exciting new enabling platform – blockchain. The ability to have a distributed ledger, smart contracts and one version of the truth, without a central co-ordinating authority. I think it is worth making two important points at this stage; first, that blockchain should be seen as an enabling technology which needs to be applied in the right way and second, that people should focus on the outcomes of a given platform not the underlying technology. There is a lot of hype around blockchain and I often find myself asking one simple question when presented with the next new blockchain idea, “What are the unique outcomes that can only be achieved using blockchain?”

It is then perhaps useful to focus on some concrete examples where blockchain technology can lead to better outcomes. At Electron, a leading energy blockchain company in the UK, where I am a board member, we have been focusing on two main applications:

Quick switching – we have simulated 50 million consumer meter points switching at a rate of more than 20 times the current switching rate leading to faster, more accurate switching but also creating a platform for better customer service, regulation and innovation. By way of example, think of the Priority Service Register, which is currently out of scope of quicker switching (because its too complicated) but on a blockchain could simply be added as an additional block of information. Or perhaps think of the ability of the regulator to be a “node” on the system, allowing it see instantly any switches that did not complete due to incumbent objection. We have a consortium of 20-plus parties working with us to commercialise this and thereby help deliver the government’s desire for faster, more accurate switching.

Demand-side response – we have developed a system that will allow multiple assets (batteries, water heaters, generation, and so on), distributed across the grid to bid into multiple balancing markets across each level of the grid including transmission system operator, distribution system operator and community. This will reduce the cost of balancing, improve regulation and provide greater clarity on actions taken by the different balancing bodies. Electron recently won a substantial BEIS grant to work alongside both National Grid and Siemens to further develop this platform and begin trials. In parallel we have a consortium of over ten leading flexibility providers who are working with us to see how we can start commercialising this and bring it to market. Clearly a successful implementation would allow other similar platforms to be developed in other markets around the world, all of which are facing similar challenges.

The huge changes that are taking place in the energy system are creating new opportunities and challenges, and we believe that blockchain as an enabling platform, can deliver better outcomes for consumers, businesses, regulators and the environment. It’s a brave new world and one that we at Electron hope to help create.

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