“Blockless” Blockchain May Blow Open the Doors to Direct, P2P Solar Energy

Last edited: June 21, 2017 @ 06:35 PM PST

New, innovative information-communications technologies (ICT) have emerged as key facets driving rapidly growing investment in and deployment of innovative solar energy technologies, business models and enterprising “green” energy organizations around the world.

Solar is Increasingly Important to the Global Generation Mix
Solar is Increasingly Important to the Global Generation Mix

Blockchain, the peer-to-peer (P2P) network software underlying the Bitcoin “cryptocurrency,” and a growing roster of variants are now being assessed as a means of exchanging and distributing the emissions-free electricity produced by solar, wind and other environmentally friendly forms of renewable energy generation assets much more efficiently and at much lower cost. That’s particularly valuable as solar energy generation and battery-based energy storage systems (BESS) capacity continue to reach new heights and costs fall to, and in a growing number of instances below, the level of competing fossil fuel power generation worldwide.

Having just set a cryptocurrency record on the Bitfinex exchange, the IOTA Foundation is moving beyond blockchain. A second public sale of digital IOTA tokens generated $0.5 million worth of buy-sell transactions, lifting the cryptocurrency to a record market capitalization of more than USD1.5 billion. In addition, IOTA tokens have been changing hands on Slack since December 2015. (Last edited: June 21, 2017 @ 06:35 PM PST)

Solar Magazine was able to interview IOTA Foundation Member David Cohen, a US-based expert in distributed computing and digital energy, to gain insight into the attributes that distinguish IOTA Tangle from its blockchain cousins, and how it could dramatically enhance the sharing of locally produced solar energy, thereby enhancing returns on investment for solar energy producers, lower and substantially reduce energy costs for consumers and yield benefits for society as a whole.

Decentralizing and Opening Up Solar Energy Trading

Wireless network sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones), new satellite remote sensing technology and low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) are all being used to optimize production and performance of solar energy installations.

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On the software side, new cloud-based application and platform services that enable distributed “Energy Internet of Things” (IoT) machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and the use of “big data” sets to run predictive analytic and forecasting applications are making increasingly significant, beneficial impacts in terms of solar energy systems performance.

Efforts on the part of energy and power sector stakeholders to capitalize on the advantages and benefits proffered by blockchain-based distributed energy trading and transaction platforms have cropped up worldwide in the past couple or so years, and they are progressing in terms of application diversity and scale, both geographically and with regard to computing power.

For instance, the open source, blockchain-based Hyperledger Fabric is being used by members of a large public-private partnership to build NEW 4.0, a P2P electronic energy trading and transaction platform that project partners see as a means of lowering the costs and enhancing the ability to distribute and maximize use of the emissions-free electricity contained in northwestern Germany and Western Europe’s vast offshore wind power resources.

On the far side of the world from Western Europe, Perth, Australia’s Power Ledger as of last August was poised to launch the first field trials of a retail distributed solar-storage energy trading market in Australia. According to a news report, consumers and “prosumers” – those with solar PV systems that contribute electricity to power grids – “will buy, sell or swap excess solar electricity directly with each other rather than to the grid for a minimal return.”

Beyond Blockchain

Founded by David Sonstebo, Dominik Scheiner and others, the IOTA Foundation is taking blockchain, distributed solar energy sharing a big step further. According to the organization, its Tangle “blockless” blockchain P2P network platform resolves two significant obstacles that have plagued blockchain-based trading/transaction platform developers: scalability and transaction processing speed and efficiency.

Digital markets that rely on IOTA Tangle can deliver seamless, “frictionless” and zero-cost P2P trading, transaction processing and record-keeping without the need for intermediaries, IOTA says. That could unlock and help realize the unrealized full value of shared, local emissions-free solar energy assets.

“IOTA provides a robust infrastructure that be can allow diverse DER [distributed energy resources] systems to be safely aggregated in both grid and non grid-interactive modes.  As well, IOTA is the only technology that will support peer-to-peer energy sharing and trading with no transaction fees, scalability, or availability issues,” Cohen told Solar Magazine.

In contrast to Bitcoin and other blockchain-based P2P trading/transaction systems, IOTA Tangle processes transactions in parallel as opposed to doing so sequentially, harnessing the computer processing power of all available network peers. The result is fast, seamless and “frictionless” trading and exchanges at no cost to Tangle network peers, IOTA explains.

Faster, More Efficient, Solar Energy Trading at Zero Cost

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“Peer-to-peer energy sharing using DER systems, including ‘solar plus storage,’ is part of a larger trend towards deployment and use of ‘transactive’ energy systems. IOTA provides a unique architecture that facilitates the micro-transactions that enable smart home and smart building nanogrids and microgrids to share and trade energy,” Cohen elaborated.

“Existing blockchain approaches simply do not work. The fees and energy consumption associated with processing distributed energy transactions just doesn’t scale with the transaction fees and amount of energy consumption of the transactions themselves.”

Continuing, Cohen explained that “the main ingredient of IOTA is the ability to create highly scalable P2P energy sharing and trading platforms with zero transaction fees. That’s mandatory when it comes to supporting transactive energy systems.

“The point of P2P solar sharing is to help create a more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly energy system.  Imagine a P2P energy sharing platform where the embedded energy cost and transaction fees that enable current blockchain approaches are greater than the energy being saved or transacted?  This is a broken model, and IOTA is the answer to solve this critical issue.” comment