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Energy Web Foundation releases utility blockchain to quietened market

The Energy Web Foundation has launched its EW Chain blockchain, to somewhat muted response, after spending the past two years in development while much of the blockchain hype died out. Based on Ethereum, EW Chain will launch with 17 applications, migrated over from the test networks, and support from some pretty influential names, but the question remains whether it can go mass-market, or whether it will remain niche.

We are still very optimistic about the potential for blockchain technologies in the utility sector – much more so than in the financial services world, where the vision of a decentralized platform has been thoroughly gutted, thanks to adopters creating islands. Instead of a new global currency, we have insurance firms and banks creating their own private blockchains, to settle inter-business transactions more efficiently.

But the picture is different in the utility sector. As more Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) are adopted, having a distributed system for controlling and coordinating them becomes more important, and tools like EW Chain seem to show that they are more than capable of logging inputs and outputs on a ledger that can be publicly interrogated.

EW Chain is now live, running on validator nodes hosted by ten of its supporting companies. The EWF, now that its primary objective has been completed, is going to shift to a new business model, based on ecosystem membership, application development, certification, and consultancy. These early supporters are – Centrica, Duke Energy, E.ON, Engie, Elia (Belgian transmission system operator), Singapore Power Group, OLI Technology, and FlexiDAO.

The latter two firms are going to be unfamiliar to most. OLI Technology is a German startup that has a joint hardware-software offering that uses a Raspberry Pi 3 as the foundation for a blockchain-based energy usage optimization tool that can scale from single flats to small power plants.

FlexiDAO, meanwhile, uses its blockchain technology to enable energy retailers to sell renewable electricity to their customers, pitching traceability to the consumers as its key service. Essentially, although this is a little bit of a white-lie, the promise is that you can see where the energy you consume is coming from, and thus pay more for more environmentally friendly generation.

EWF chief commercial officer Jesse Morris said “we now have corporates from different markets across the world, that are not part of some standard-setting effort, hosting a part of an IT solution that is fully open source, decentralized, requires collaboration, and is public. If you look at blockchain projects in other industries, you don’t have corporates participating in public networks. The energy sector is leading the rest of the world.”

Some 17 decentralized applications (dApps, in blockchain parlance) are being ported from the collective pilot networks onto EW Chain, opening them up to a global customer base. What’s more, developers should be able to add their own dApps to EW Chain, driving growth in this market.

The initial dApps have three core focuses, Morris explained to Greentech Media. Engie, Singapore Power Group, and PTT, the Thai national oil company, are using a dApp to track the certificates of guarantees of origin, which are required in more regulated markets to prove where electricity has come from. Morris and the EWF hope that the dApp could become the standard way for these regulations to be enforced and complied with, both for electricity consumption but also carbon production.

Demand Response is the second main focus, according to Morris. Elia and Stedin, a Dutch distribution system operator (DSO), have both developed dApps that are pitched at DER integration. For Stedin, the objective is to relieve grid congestion at its distribution level, while Elia is more interested in reducing the costs of the ancillary grid service markets.

The pitch for running these applications on EW Chain is that they should be more easily scalable than managing multiple private applications in disparate cloud environments. In theory, if you want to use an application, you ‘just’ have to get your systems configured with EW Chain and start running the dApp, which in turn lets you interact with other instances of the application too, which is not particularly straightforward in the public-private cloud world. There are efficiency arguments to be made too, as this centralized and share approach should be less wasteful of compute resources.

The third main focus of these initial dApps is in electric vehicle (EV) charging, which will be using EW Chain as a way to track payments from charging service operators and utilities to and from the cars’ owners. Share&Charge and Wirelane are two startups exploring this route, who both plan to launch applications on EW Chain in the next six months.

The EWF is one of the pre-eminent names in the utility blockchain market. We have been following another, LO3 Energy, for a while, and these two partnered back in July 2018, to try and develop a standard for use in the energy trading markets. Back in 2017, we covered how Tepco donated to the founding of the EWF, and how Energo was expanding its APAC-focused development. Elering and WePower opened 2018, announcing a pilot to trade energy on the Estonian national grid.

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