The digital revolution is happening on many fronts, and electricity and power grids are feeling the effects.

Writing for Forbes, senior contributor on sustainability, Jeff McMahon, reports that once upon a time, a single electric utility would send electricity in one direction to many customers. But the grid is evolving so that millions of devices will buy and sell, exchange and share electricity, system services, and information instantaneously in a multitude of directions.

US energy labs, writes McMahon, have begun developing systems that use blockchain to manage those transactions.

“We’ve got a really interesting opportunity here,” said Tony Markel, a researcher at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “We see the electricity grid going through a pretty interesting transition, this whole sector going from having a lot of things be controlled from a central perspective, moving out, to having a lot of distributed energy resources and having a lot of—having millions to billions of devices sitting out there on the power grid.

“And we’re going to be in a state where we don’t know what all those things are doing. They may all have different objectives. And, so, I think where we’re headed with trying to understand blockchain, and building the knowledge base around blockchain, is seeing that future state and knowing that we need a way to develop and ensure trust across that entire very complex, highly distributed environment.”

Trust is the key word. Blockchain is associated often these days with cryptocurrencies, which rely on the technology’s capacity for trust, or at least for transparency. The future grid will require a reliable hyper ledger, transparent to multiple parties.

“Blockchain … is a distributed digital record of actions agreed upon and performed by multiple parties,” said Pete Tseronis, the moderator of an NREL panel on the future of blockchain for energy systems. “Don’t confuse it with the whole crypto thing yet, folks. But it provides mathematical proof about the state of data, and it’s commonly associated with cryptocurrencies, but cryptography and consensus mechanisms underpin this. At the end of the day, it’s to build a trusted relationship.”

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June 2024