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2019 has to bring some real customers of “energy + blockchain”

Smaller and more efficient energy trades; billions saved in supply chain optimization; securing energy data from cyber attacks…

These are all enterprise applications that are being deployed today on blockchains, we learned at the World Energy Council’s (WEC) innovation workshop on energy and blockchain hosted at Shell in London (on 27 November 2018).

The room was filled with some of the most prominent experts and companies working at the intersection of energy and blockchain. We heard from startups running flexibility trading platforms, peer to peer energy trading and even device to device energy data services. We discussed regulatory approaches that could unleash the capabilities that new technologies provide.

But let’s face it, we all need to be thinking about ‘unprecedented’ changes in how we deliver decarbonized energy, and some use cases are more exciting than others in meeting that ambition.

We have no time to waste.

2019 has to be the year of getting customer traction. Energy utility business models are on the way out. The “Blockchain” bubble has burst. For both reasons, real use cases with real customers are what counts. Will that look like large corporate uses of blockchain that take $1 billion off the balance sheet through better optimisation? These may be embedded in large corporates and hard to track. Maybe in a few years’ time, all that corporate learning will yield some new innovation around those optimised processes.

Instead, next year, I’ll be looking for energy applications that matter to young people, like choices to buy green or local power, and applications at the intersection of energy and other consumer sectors (i.e.: Volkswagen). I’ll be looking at accelerators that are supporting apps that happen to be blockchain-enabled and companies with a track record who are able to develop their core protocols further. I would not be surprised to see new products coming this year that challenge our current thinking. In fact, I will be disappointed if not!

Some of the most interesting questions that emerged at the WEC event were the hardest to answer: How do we get our corporate clients to think bigger and work with small, innovative startups? How do we value what communities want from their energy systems, not just make it more efficient to deliver the same services we offer today?

How can we step up?

In the last few weeks, I have been most inspired by the thinking of Masters students from KIC InnoEnergy at European Utility Week’s Initiate platform, when Energy Unlocked hosted a challenge to 4 teams of students on how to accelerate ‘demand side flexibility’ in energy.

Demand side flexibility in energy means moving when you consume power to help with grid balancing (and avoiding high carbon times which are most expensive). You can read more about it in another Medium post by FLEX.

The teams at European Utility Week spent just 2 days thinking of their solutions. And at the end of it, they were already sharing new apps and ideas. One would use points earned from flexible dishwashers or EV charging to pay for things in local shops. Another would allow residents to club together to use what they earn through being flexible to fund local solar projects in schools, or even local gyms or co-working spaces.

This is what people want. It is their future and it is their turn to build it.