Peer-to-peer energy trading could completely reverse the electricity delivery model. But before it arrives, energy companies can use blockchain for less flashy applications, such as tracking equipment and building materials through their chain of custody. They can also use distributed registers to monitor the individual behavior of energy and reward it, possibly by developing new energy market mechanisms.
The PG & E utility pointed to those examples of early blockchain pilots at the GTM forum on the topic in San Francisco this week. The presentation suggested that the first proof-proof projects of-concept are more likely to succeed in humble and relatively elementary tasks before obtaining approval for more ambitious and market-altering implementations.
"We are thrilled to be able to start investing, testing and piloting in this space," said Kathleen Kay, senior vice president and chief information officer of PG & E. "We think it will solve some of our problems, but not With what we learn, it will help us understand where else we might be able to exploit it. "
The Northern California utility has some headaches that the blockchain could help.
Serving 16 million Californians means the company operates a huge portfolio of installed energy infrastructures, the benefits of which derive more effectively from utility land.
The company also has 340,000 solar roofs in its territory, said Kay, with 6,000 new entrances every month. This means that many energy equipment located on the customer present themselves and interact with the network on their own initiative. The growth of electric vehicles does not will make that expand this phenomenon.
Better tools to account for electrical production and consumption by distributed energy resources will give PG & E a boost in its efforts to orchestrate that sector along with conventional network resources.
At the first point, PG & E is carrying out a traceability project of steel ct coils, using blockchain to trace the chain of custody for the steel coils that carry the aerial cables.
The goal is to verify if the distributed ledger technology can firmly track the chain of custody for the grid materials. Doing this would increase the visibility of the company in the state of its resources and reduce the cost of tracing them manually over the years.
If it works for steel coils, Kay said that this process could expand into things like transformers, gas pipes and electric poles. Furthermore, these efforts could be used to automate parts of the supply chain, such as the equivalent of an intelligent refrigerator that orders new milk when the carton is almost finished. (This is not an energy application of the blockchain as much as a logistics application of the supply chain used in the energy space. Construction materials are not loaded or generated.)
The other pilot addresses the Energy more directly.
PG & E is working with BMW to create carbon credits for electric vehicle drivers based on the emissions profile of when they load their cars. Recharging when the grid is flush with solar power generation produces higher carbon reductions than top-up recharge, when carbon-intensive resources come into play to balance demand.
Using BMW's telematics data, this pilot aims to cross-reference the user's charging behavior with real-time energy mix data. Customers would be able to monetize their clean debit choices by exchanging their authenticated claims on the California market.
"So we can incentivize EV drivers to align their vehicle charging behavior with green choices," Kay said.
Although circumscribed, this pilot addresses a central question about the future of the network: how can utilities encourage customers to consume energy in a way that benefits or at least minimizes stress on the overall system?
Differentiated rates over time move in that direction, pushing consumption away from peak hours, but lacking granularity. The price of the block over several hours does not send a satisfactory market signal such as real-time accounting.
If successful, the trust instilled by distributed records could prove to be a decisive link between customer behavior and transactions with third parties based on that behavior. There is no reason why this should stop with EV charging. It could apply to billing for EV recharge in a broader sense and even lay the foundations in a long-term sense for a distributed energy market.
Technology must mature before a more solid vision becomes reality. For this to happen, Kay said that four key requirements must be met: scalability across the territory of the service; data privacy; linking physical resources to their digital representations; and integration with existing regulatory requirements.
Members of GTM Squared can watch all sessions from our blockchain summit on request here.