Energy Web Foundation is working toward building a blockchain of blockchains that could let consumers sell the energy they generate at home in markets worldwide.

The EWF open-source software application, called EW Origin, could provide digital links between existing energy trading platforms, analogous to the role that interconnectors play in the physical electricity market world.

“It’s all about tracking the origin of renewable energy and showing the ‘carbonality’ of that unit of energy — how black, brown or green it is depending on where it is and what time of day it was generated,” said Jesse Morris, EWF’s chief commercial officer.

EW Origin could be connected to exchanges or load centers to allow inter-exchange transfers, he said. Potentially, you could sell the value of the clean energy you generate on your rooftop in California to a consumer in Singapore.

EW Origin is one of three publicly available hardware and software components, called frameworks, that EWF is developing to run on its EW Chain blockchain.

EWF is hoping to release the genesis block of the chain, which is equivalent to a commercial launch, in the second or third quarter of next year, Morris said.

It is possible the blockchain could facilitate regional or even international renewable certificate exchanges at launch, he noted.

“We would like to give a digital platform to the world that is ultra low-cost, ultra scalable and ultra flexible, in terms of it [being able to] support any use case you can imagine,” he said.

Additional applications

Global energy trading is just one application that could run over EW Chain, said Morris. Other frameworks being built on EW Chain are EW Link, a set of architectures and standards for securely connecting physical devices to the blockchain, and EW D3A, a simulation tool for localized blockchain-enabled electricity markets.

Details of the frameworks were released in an EWF white paper published this month. The paper outlines how EW Chain will differ from Ethereum, the blockchain technology that EWF used as a starting point.

EWF has tweaked the code to overcome five barriers to Ethereum’s use in the energy sector, according to the white paper. For example, instead of using Ethereum’s proof-of-work consensus mechanism for validation, EW Chain will use a method called proof of authority. This should give EW Chain 30 times the network capacity available on Ethereum.

Similarly, in contrast to Ethereum’s bulky code, EWF has created "light client" software to run on devices such as inverters that do not possess much computing power. EWF is also hoping to make EW Chain easier than Ethereum for developers to use.

The Foundation has created a development system that is between 1.3 and 15 times faster than Ethereum’s virtual machine and sucks up less computing power while allowing developers to use languages other than Solidity, the blockchain coding standard.

Another area where EWF is hoping to improve on Ethereum is in privacy. Ethereum offers almost no scope for keeping transaction details private, which could be a major stumbling block for energy trades involving details from individual energy prosumers. As a result, EWF provides a mechanism allowing developers to maintain data privacy while keeping the validation benefits of a blockchain. 

Governing the EW chain

One of the biggest areas of development for EWF, though, has been in governance.

This is a big issue for EWF, since EW Chain could potentially connect trading platforms across many jurisdictions and regulatory environments. The Foundation’s response has been for application developers to be given the leading role to govern the EW Chain.

“Their voting rights are determined by how useful their applications are,” states the white paper. “We measure applications’ usefulness via proxy as measured by the computing processing power from applications deployed from their known addresses on the blockchain.”

In other words, said EWF, applications that are more widely used will give their developers stronger voting rights. “We fully recognize this system is not without limitations and drawbacks,” concede the authors of the white paper.

"It creates potential issues and incentives to spend unnecessary gas in order to accrue voting rights," it continues. "However, we are convinced that developers — rather than network validators or token holders — are the appropriate constituency to delegate voting power to.”