Innovation

Blockchain is democratising sunshine – that’s very cool

By Kitty Knowles 7 March 2017
Summary

Blockchain is setting the record straight.

Is the sun beaming through your window today? Or are you staring out into the dreary grey abyss?

If the latter is true, it’s easy to forget that sunshine is the future. Don’t be fooled.

As a global community we’re generating more solar power year-on-year, and by 2050 it’s anticipated to become the world’s largest electricity source.

The problem is, not everyone’s able to capture this golden gift, and those who do, are finding it difficult to share around.

Luckily one business is on a mission to change that: Power Ledger is using blockchain to democratise sunshine.

The BIG problem with sharing sunshine

David Martin co-founded Power Ledger last year to help everyone get the most out of solar energy.

Right now people fortunate enough to invest in solar panels tend to sell their excess energy back to the grid:

“You’re out in the day when your solar panels are doing their damnedest, which means half of the energy you generate gets spilled back into the network to be used by your neighbours.”

This sounds like a great example of energy saving, but the reality is less attractive.

That’s because as demand and prices rise in the evening, the people who bought the panels in the first place end up paying up to four times as much buying energy back.

So people stop sharing

The knee-jerk reaction is that people with solar panels are no longer selling back their excess energy.

Instead, more and more people are investing in batteries to store their daytime energy for personal use in the evenings.

This is great for the individual, but it means they virtually disappear from the grid.

“The benefits aren’t shared, and the fixed system ends up being paid for by a fewer number of people at a greater cost,” Martin explains.

Given that it’s people who can’t afford solar panels, or who might live in high-rise flats without their own roof, that means it’s poorer people who end up footing a larger bill.

“It’s the people that can’t afford panels that suffer,” says Martin.

“It’s the people who are socially or financially marginalised, that will face the increasing cost of energy.”

David Martin (centre) with property and architecture experts.

Blockchain makes life better for everyone

Power Ledger wants to stop this from happening by bringing ‘blockchain’ into the equation. Normally associated with digital currencies (like Bitcoin), this is a completely transparent digital record that can be used to precisely track energy.

“We can demonstrate to the satisfaction of consumers to retailers, regulators, network owners and operators that the energy that’s being generated on your roof is energy that’s being consumed by your neighbour,” Martin explains.

“This data allows consumers to sell their electricity directly to their neighbours rather than selling it back to their retailer at a much lower price.”

A block of flats, for example, can now all benefit from shared solar panels, without fear that someone will be shortchanged: if one person is using the solar energy during the day, you buy their share directly from them rather than a retailer.

It’s an idea that can be rolled out more broadly on a national level to share sunshine across continents.

Soon, the world

With the rise of solar, it makes sense for smart retailers to move away from the idea of selling distributed energy too instead sell distributed capacity, says Martin.

In fact, today Power Ledger is not only running a pilot scheme across four blocks of social housing (about 150 individual housing units) in Australia, it is already planning trials on a national level in New Zealand’s through the country’s biggest energy company, Vector.

“It’s a trial of peer-to-peer trading,” Martin explains. “They’re developing a trading environment where the excess energy produced on people’s roofs can be sold across the whole distribution network.”

The team has already spoken to utility companies across Europe, Asia and South America, and are pushing for new peer-to-peer regulations that will help them scale across the globe.

“I want our users to feel that they’re in control, that they’re contributing to the de-carbonisation of the electricity system,” said Martin. “But that they are actually also maintaining the value of a really important social asset. It’s a win-win-win situation.”

“We want to make peer-to-peer trading a possibility right across the world.”

Let the sun shine.