Last night I had the pleasure of participating in and mostly listening to the speakers at the NYC Ethereum meetup.
I met some great people. I took some notes, and decided it was a good opportunity to document some of the ideas coming from this vibrant and growing community.
For those interested in the actual talk, I recommend you take a look at the video here:
The product & team
Last night’s talk was given by several members of the team at Grid+. Grid+ is a very cool initiative to decentralize and demonopolize the process of retail energy consumption.
Grid+ aims to sell retail energy at wholesale prices give or take an eventual x% markup. This is compared to the 100%+ markup that retail consumers currently endure from existing, entrenched utility retailers.
Their key product manifestation will be a physical energy agent. Basically, a physical device that will allow the customer to setup their payment and energy preferences. It will be smart and eventually interact with other devices in the home. In the early stage, it’s just making sure the energy bill gets paid.
Step one is lowering the cost for consumers, given a blockchain enforced and managed billing mechanism. Step two includes innovations, for instance: converting consumers to prosumers by allowing customers to store energy and contribute it back to the grid for compensation. Step three includes options to make the retail energy process smarter via integrations and AI (more on that later).
The story is the classic case of the entrenched, overly bureaucratic, inefficient market players collecting exorbitant rents while playing the role of low-value middleman. Energy utilities currently play this role. Throughout the country they range the gamut, but even in the most deregulated markets, they are inefficient and dated, at best.
Grid+ has chosen Texas as their launch market. Texas is uniquely positioned with a deregulated electricity market. Furthermore, the western half of the state is a solar goldmine.
Given the New York team, New York would seem to be an obvious choice. However, it’s very hard to deal with entrenched players (ConEd much?) in this state. Texas has the unique opportunity for solar and a largely competitive field for energy providers.
I have some experience with this industry, given the work I did years ago with Verde L3C. The Grid+ team is wise to launch initially in markets friendlier to innovation and competition.
Furthermore, their embrace of time of use pricing is something long understood to be a useful innovation in energy. Not only would it better help provisioning and renewable energy incentives. It forces consumers to grapple with the higher cost of peak energy use, and adjust accordingly.
Some key takeaways
- Do minimal calculations, transactions, and management on the blockchain. This was something I found rather observant. Every piece of computation you do on the blockchain costs gas. They have plans to lengthen the period of time before going on chain. Best analogy was a bar tab, you clear it out at the end of a long string of transactions. (See point #6).
- Energy consumers are paying up front, like a retainer, no longer will the responsible consumers subsidize the non-paying customers. Apparently non paying subsidization is a huge problem in the industry, today.
- Private keys and cryptocurrency should be protected at all costs. The physical device will be proactive in managing digital and physical (theft) security threats.
- Grid+ will eventually be in a position to issue their own coin (working title: BOLT) that is backed by actual value in retail energy markets. Specifically, this addresses the long-held skepticism of cryptocurrencies that lack backing in ‘normal’ commodity or currency markets.
- The product will provide massive incentives to those that wish to store up renewal energy and sell it to other consumers.
- The team has future plans to leverage the power of off chain state networks like Raiden to lower transaction costs and improve efficiency.
- Texas has decent, existing marketing infrastructure that requires companies to published kilowatts / hour prices in the interest of luring new customers. Grid+ is in a very good position to capitalize on this, as they are expecting to lower the price / hour by a large margin.
- Eventually agent devices will be able to pair with other devices and allow consumers to ‘opt-in’ to smart energy usage. The example used was having the agent look at the calendar on your phone and determine when you’re on vacation. It would then use that time to interact with other smart home devices (think Nest) and minimize your energy use.
I sincerely enjoyed my evening. I felt I witnessed several talented people very aware of the potential of their technology. They were simultaneously aware of the risks that come with highly regulated utility markets. They are not walking blind, and they have armed themselves with knowledge to get the job done.
While I am one to worry about the hysteria that appears to surround all things blockchain, I am encouraged by teams willing to attack a time-honored problem with radical focus and dedication. I am reminded of the few, notable survivors of the 2000 era tech boom. I hate being in the prediction game, but I would give Grid+ a 51%+ chance of making an impact in this latest wave. Best of luck to them, and I appreciate your feedback.