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Blockchain Systems and the Distributed Sourcing of Power

Image: geobrava.wordpress.com

J.D. Kaplan

With so many things strained in supply, it might feel like a luxury to have anything abundant at all. Information pumps, however, still seem to be working at full capacity. Drowning in spreadsheets and news bites, some way to find certainty in the data one depends upon would naturally float to the top of the value heap. That is, to be certain what you’re looking at matches what your bank or your colleague put in at the other end, is suddenly golden. Thus, a technique or technology that attests to its veracity might itself be of as much value as the thing being accounted for.

Such is the profile story of Bitcoin and the Blockchain that it came from.

Just before the wave of lockdowns reached the U.S., I had the pleasure of representing G.E.T. at the Solar & Storage energy conference held in Boston. The complexity of energy exchange, and the concomitant fiscal mess behind it, came to light through this experience for me. There can be financially independent operators for any physical component of an electric grid, from the power plant all the way down to the “service drop,” the line connecting to your house. In my area, this means that when the power goes out, there could be as many as four parties involved as it has to be restored.

So, to imagine a power grid with almost as many power producers as there are roofs big enough for a solar array might be tough enough. To build one that is equitable and fiscally transparent might seem out of reach. The running answer, as it were, is the blockchain.

To explain why blockchains, a core technology underneath Bitcoin and all cryptocurrencies, offer such validity and transparency to green energy and the democratization of electricity, we can look to the work of Andoni et al: “Blockchains can securely record ownership and origins of the energy consumed or supplied.” Dr. Andoni1 and her team track around 140 independent projects within the energy sector around the world that have sparked around this central theme. All handle the various units of account we’re concerned with in the energy field, exchanging carbon, coal, and kilowatt-hours.

Block-chains first emerged in 1991, when two mathematicians named Haber and Stornetta published a paper2 advancing a method of verifying data. They were witnessing the world of important records being digitized in a hurry, and saw this as a problem. Their logic allowed a group of transactions to be fingerprinted—the block—and then chained together, so that an observer with no forensic tools can easily see whether or not any transactions in the record had changed. If a single item is altered anywhere in any block, the fingerprint, a math result they co-developed, will appear completely different. Thus, if you chain your blocks together—think of many months of entries to your checking account—and someone alters a bit from six months ago or six years, even the most recent fingerprint would change.

You would then be tipped off to tampering. This simple concept is the essential point of the work that has brought around 250 billion USD in value to digital currencies to date. It is also the core technique that so many progenitors of a smart grid, microgrid, power aggregators and community energy exchanges of all types have begun looking toward to. This could keep these things equitable, accountable and easily auditable.

If we expect a green future, the distributed sourcing of power is likely to be a pillar of its structure, with the use of blockchain systems at root.

J. D. Kaplan is a certified remote pilot and a former member of the I.T. crowd. He is a reader in the areas of bioelectromagnetics and cryptocurrency. For G.E.T. readers, Mr. Kaplan intends to profile blockchain activity within the energy sector. He lives and works at or above sea level near Boston, MA.

Links:

1 https://bit.ly/36wL30j M. Andoni, et al.

2 https://bit.ly/2ZI9Ehr Haber & Stornetta

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