The blockchain platform developer Energy Web Foundation has unveiled a series of developments including an answer to energy blockchains’ biggest challenge: power use.
EWF said the architecture it is developing for energy blockchain companies would use a proof-of-authority (POA) consensus validation process instead of proof-of-work, which is the dominant protocol today and is the cause of bitcoin’s massive waste of electricity.
Proof-of-work systems, such as bitcoin’s Hashcash function, allow anyone who can solve complex, energy-intensive computing algorithms to validate transactions. With POA, validation will fall to a set of trusted "industry validators," usually developers.
This feature could cut energy requirements significantly.
Jesse Morris, EWF secretary, told GTM that POA would allow energy sector blockchain companies to scale to millions of transactions with an electricity consumption around that of a medium-sized office block, rather than a medium-sized country, as is the case with bitcoin.
However, the benefit will only be available to companies that adopt EWF’s open-source energy blockchain platform, rather than those that use existing platforms such as Ethereum.
“The blockchain community knows energy consumption is a problem,” said Morris, “[but] I don’t have a good answer for the bitcoin network.”
EWF’s aim is to build a technology platform that is specifically tailored to the needs of peer-to-peer energy trading application developers. It will be like an Apple store for energy blockchain apps, Morris said.
The foundation, a nonprofit organization co-founded by Rocky Mountain Institute and energy blockchain developer Grid Singularity, plans to make its platform fully available in the next 12 to 16 months, said Morris.
A test version of the platform, called Tobalaba, is available to developers already, although it does not allow for real-money transactions.
For now, developers can use “Monopoly money,” Morris said. The ability to carry out proper transactions may be implemented ahead of the official launch of the platform.
Along with proof-of-authority, EWF recently unveiled a number of other tweaks to its platform. One of them was what EWF called "secret transactions," which is effectively a way of encrypting certain energy transaction details to comply with personal data regulations.
“Secret transactions can encrypt smart contracts during validation processes and therefore keep confidential, sensitive information private, yet provide needed transparency to authorized parties, such as regulators,” explained EWF in a press release.
Another novelty involved making the blockchain platform easier for non-blockchain programmers to work with. Today, most Ethereum-based smart contract work requires knowledge of a specialist programming language called Solidity.
But EWF’s platform has been integrated with a web standard called WebAssembly that allows developers to work on it within browsers or using more common programming languages, such as C, C++ or Rust.
The final tweak unveiled this week at Event Horizon, a global summit on energy blockchain technology in Berlin, was a so-called "light client" implementation of the Energy Web platform.
This slimmed-down version of the technology would allow device manufacturers to install the platform on their devices without having to host a full copy of the Energy Web blockchain. “If we want a scalable blockchain, you can’t have all of it on every node,” Morris observed.
Alongside the platform developments, EWF debuted two open-source systems at Event Horizon. One, EW Origin, records the provenance and automatically tracks the ownership of renewably generated electricity, including location, time, source type and carbon emissions.
The other, called the Decentralized Autonomous Area Agent, is an early proof-of-concept simulation environment for blockchain-based, transactive grid operations.
Finally, EWF announced the creation of a community called EW Connect, to match up energy companies with a pre-qualified network of blockchain software development vendors. More than 30 companies are working already working on the Tobalaba test network, EWF said.
The platform developer’s website lists a wide range of customers, including Centrica, Duke Energy, E.ON, Electron, Eneco, Engie, Exelon, Innogy, Pacific Gas and Electric, Sempra Energy, Shell, Slock.it, Statoil, Swytch and Tokyo Electric Power Company.
The Sun Exchange, a South Africa-based marketplace for solar PV equipment, is one of the companies looking to adopt elements of the EWF platform as they roll out.
“The Sun Exchange plans to participate in a pilot of the Energy Web Origin decentralized app,” confirmed Abraham Cambridge, founder and CEO. “We're targeting implementation of the project pilot in two or three of our South African projects in summer 2018.”
Sun Exchange hopes the pilot will help it implement a virtual transactive grid by tracking the place of origin and ownership of renewable generation.
“This will also provide helpful input to EWF before the Energy Web Chain, which Origin runs on, goes live in a year,” Cambridge said.