Two recent initiatives demonstrate how blockchain is gaining traction in the energy sector, writes Kelvin Ross

A new blockchain-based energy-sharing token has been launched in The Netherlands.

Named the ‘Jouliette’, the new token aims to empower individuals and communities to easily manage and share locally produced renewable energy.

It has been developed by Amsterdam-headquartered smart energy company Spectral and Dutch distribution system operator Alliander.

The Jouliette – named after the Joule unit of measurement for energy – is the first such initiative of its kind in the Netherlands.

The project aims to become an example of how to harness the capabilities of blockchain technology to create greater social value and to support a bottom-up transition towards a more distributed, robust, and transparent economy, underpinned by 100 per cent renewable energy.

The Jouliette has been launched at De Ceuvel, an experimental innovation community in Amsterdam powered by renewables.

With the Jouliette token, community members are able to make secure, peer-to-peer transactions directly between their own virtual currency ‘wallets’.

Blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin, ensures that these transactions are secure and decentralized, with the history of all transactions being shared with all the community members, so they can be automatically verified without needing the intervention of a ‘trusted’ bank.

Spectral and Alliander said that this ecosystem at De Ceuvel is made possible because the site features a private renewable energy-based smart-grid. This enables the community to exchange renewable energy produced by their solar photovoltaic panels, without any restrictions, and therefore avoid existing market barriers.

“With the Jouliette platform, the De Ceuvel community can easily manage their own micro-economy, and unlike purely speculative currencies, the Jouliette tokens are backed up by physical energy production,” the companies said in a statement.

The De Ceuvel community in Amsterdam
The De Ceuvel community in Amsterdam

“Beyond just enabling energy exchange, the community will be exploring further applications for the Jouliette, such as using it to trade for goods at the De Ceuvel Cafe, to facilitate a local time-banking system, and to integrate other intra-community services, such as a car-sharing programme.”

Besides the peer-to-peer blockchain trading system, the Jouliette platform also features a real-time power-flow map of the community, high-resolution data visualizations, and machine-learning forecasting systems, which provide users with greater insights into their real-time energy use and projected production and consumption.

Spectral chief executive Philip Gladek said: “The Jouliette and its associated broader applications represents an important step forward towards realizing a local, circular, resource-based economy.

“We’re excited to launch it at De Ceuvel, which has become a globally visible showcase for sustainable urban development and a hub for cleantech innovation. In the coming months, the De Ceuvel community will be experimenting with the Jouliette in practice, and engaging in a number of user experience design sessions to take the platform to the next level, together with the system developers.

“We are looking forward to taking this idea forward and helping it scale up across the wider community and beyond to realise its full potential.”

Pallas Agterberg, strategy director at Alliander, added: “In general, society looks at big solutions when it comes to the transition towards a renewable energy system, like underground CO2 storage and big offshore wind farms.

“That makes the energy transition intangible, expensive and out of reach for many people. We want a cost neutral acceleration in the renewable transition, and perhaps even one with a cost reduction.

“But then we need a decentralized model which facilitates greater local interaction and incentivizes direct peer to peer exchange of renewable energy. We look forward to exploring how concepts like the Jouliette can help lead the transition we need to see.”

Funding for Electron

Meanwhile, in the UK, London-based energy tech company Electron has been awarded substantial funding from the government’s Energy Entrepreneurs Fund to prove how blockchain will transform the market for balancing the electricity grid.

The grant will enable the company to scale and integrate a blockchain trading platform that allows electricity consumers to be paid to adjust their energy consumption to balance supply and demand in a system.

Electron says the opportunity is sizeable: “It is a £1bn per annum market in the UK today, forecast to rise to around £5bn by 2030 as the percentage of wind and solar capacity in the system rises.”

Electron’s application was supported by National Grid and Siemens – on market design and technical implementation respectively – who will continue to engage with Electron for the duration of the project.

Unlike traditional trading platforms that match buyers and sellers on a one-to-one basis, Electron says its platform leverages blockchain technology to allow multiple parties to co-ordinate and share the value of a single consumer’s action.

This will maximise the overall value and liquidity of the flexibility market, at the same time as enabling individual purchasers of flexibility to share costs. The company refers to this concept as “collaborative trading”.

Electron’s chief executive, Paul Ellis, says that “blockchain is not just a technology. It is a revolutionary new way of transacting business without a central intermediary. Removing this intermediary enables new, better models of co-operation on an efficient, demonstrably fair platform.”

Separately, Electron’s platform has also been awarded 2017 tech pioneer status by the World Economic Forum. This award is given to companies who are developing innovative solutions and are poised to have significant positive impact on business and society.

Fulvia Montressor, Head of WEF’s Tech Pioneer programme said: “Electron’s pioneering use of blockchain tackles the energy usage challenge by increasing transparency and providing a framework for collaboration. Solutions like this are important tools to ensure energy needs are met while environmental impacts are minimized.”

In April, the former chief executive of RWE npower, Paul Massara, joined the board of Electron.

Paul Massara, who is now chief executive of North Star Solar, joined Electron as a director. He said at the time: “I am really excited about joining the board and investing in Electron. It is clear that blockchain will disrupt many markets including the energy market and having scanned the market, it was clear that Electron will be a major player.”

Electron says that it recognises the potential for blockchain to transform the shared virtual infrastructure of the energy industry, and is taking a top down, collaborative approach to platform development by working with various key stakeholders across the energy industry.