Microgrids and the Blockchain – Transforming the Energy Supply

Author: Duane M. Tilden, P.Eng.           Date: June 10, 2018

In the transition from the centralized utility is the development of the Micro-grid.  The Micro-grid offers many benefits to society, including; (a) use of renewable energy sources that reduce or eliminate the production of GHG’s, (b) increases in energy efficiency of energy transmission due to shortening of transmission distances and infrastructure, (c) improved municipal resilience against disaster and power reductions, and finally, (d) promotion of economic activity that improves universal standard of living. (1)

The Brooklyn Microgrid Experiment

A Network of Energy Cells (2)

In order to be successful, blockchain platforms and microgrids require a regulatory framework. In New York State, such a framework is provided by “Reforming the Energy Vision” (REV). The platform’s objectives are to minimize the vulnerability of the power supply system that became visible during Hurricane Sandy, to use more sources of renewable energy, and to reduce costs.

The Brooklyn Microgrid is a good test case for these objectives. “A microgrid is a nucleus that sets the stage for an energy future consisting of networks of energy cells,” says Stefan Jessenberger from Siemens’ Energy Management Division. “Blockchain also supports this process, because it makes it much easier to conduct energy trading within cells.”

Siemens Digital Grid, next47, and LO3 Energy all believe in the potential of blockchain-based microgrids, because this technology can be used wherever there are decentralized energy sources. “Our experiences with the Brooklyn Microgrid will certainly flow into future projects,” says Kessler.

 
Image #1: A Canal in Brooklyn, New York (5)

The Future is Now

But something else is happening to the grid as energy generation changes – the rise of microgrids. These smaller grid systems are linked to localised power sources, often referred to as “distributed generation” sources. For example, a handful of buildings in a city with their own solar panels might be connected to nearby residences.

In fact, that is exactly the model that LO3 Energy has experimented with in its Brooklyn Microgrid project. Customers signed up to it can choose to power their homes via a range of local renewable energy sources. People with their own solar panels can sell surplus electricity to their neighbours, for example. It’s a peer-to-peer network for electricity.

To ensure that accurate records of these transactions are kept, LO3 has opted to use blockchain distributed ledger technology. This means the microgrid’s accounting is decentralised and shared by everyone on the network.

“It’s virtually unhackable,” says founder and chief executive Lawrence Orsini, explaining that tampering with these records is almost impossible because of the fact that everyone has their own, regularly updated copy of the ledger.

LO3 is now rapidly expanding with a series of other projects around the world. One is based in South Australia, where Orsini explains there is already a lot of distributed generation going on – and plenty of grid stability issues. Users can now experiment with LO3 to get access to electricity from solar-fuelled batteries nearby when needed. (3)

Physical and Virtual Microgrids

Challenging the traditional electrical supply model are microgrids. The “microgrid” term normally refers to a localised grid that can disconnect from the main grid and operate autonomously. It uses local sources of energy to serve local users, integrating the supply of energy from various producers, including local power generators and providers of renewable energy such as solar power. Consumers with their own energy production capabilities (wind turbines or solar energy systems) can sell their surplus energy production back to peers in the microgrid, on a pay-per-use basis (becoming ‘prosumers’).

While physical microgrids are still rare, we do observe the development of virtual microgrids using peer-to-peer energy trading. Blockchain is just one element in the transformation of electricity supply, providing Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) to members of a peer-to-peer energy network, or microgrid. It offers [or ‘provides’] a reliable, lower-cost digital platform for making, validating, recording and settling energy transactions in real time across a localised and decentralised energy system.

With increasing demand for more flexible energy supplies we expect a continued increase in the number of virtual microgrids and a gradual movement towards true, physical microgrids along 4 stages […] (4)

“This project…, is the first version of a new kind of energy market, operated by consumers, which will change the way we generate and consume electricity.”
New Scientist (5)

References:  

  1. microgrid-as-a-service-maas-and-the-blockchain/
  2. smart-grids-and-energy-storage-microgrid-in-brooklyn
  3. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/microgrids-wired-energy
  4. energy-and-resources/articles/will-microgrids-transform-the-marke.html
  5. http://brooklynmicrogrid.com/
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