If December 2017 was the peak of the blockchain hype cycle, then December 2018 is the beginning of the slope of enlightenment.
Somewhere within the last year — as cryptocurrency prices crashed, initial coin offerings dried up and journalists became more cynical — we hit the trough of disillusionment.
GTM witnessed the evolution of the market firsthand over the course of the year.
In March, we held a blockchain forum in New York City that sold out in record time, where many attendees flocked from outside the industry to learn more about how the technology could be applied to energy markets. We tried to stay measured, but there was a lot of hype in the room. One guy even tried to sell us on his blockchain-based porn startup.
Our forum in Silicon Valley this September had a much different atmosphere. It was held at PG&E’s headquarters, where utilities discussed enterprise-level applications. There were fewer people in attendance, but a greater number of them were experts and tech companies eager to discuss real-world applications. The tone was a bit more restrained.
Over the year, we’ve monitored a slew of partnerships and market developments in energy. Despite the crash in cryptocurrency prices and ICOs, progress has been quite steady in the electricity space in 2018.
The companies we follow closely are all still making incremental — not revolutionary — progress. This includes companies like LO3, Power Ledger, WePower, Grid+, EWF, Electron, SolarCoin and many others. (We will likely get emails from a dozen other companies asking why they weren’t mentioned.)
There is also some agreement on the basic values of a blockchain for electricity market apps: security, programmability, transparency, immutability, and, eventually, matching real-time financial settlement with market activities.
But there isn’t yet agreement on whether the blockchain hype has just resulted in increased focus on better data management, or if it has actually made a compelling case for using blockchains as a solution for electricity market applications. It’s too early to say.
Progress is currently limited by a handful of factors:
- A very limited talent pool to grow companies.
- The fundamental elements of the blockchain technology itself remain immature — consensus mechanisms, interactions with the real world, and transaction processing times.
- Data-sharing/privacy management issues.
- General regulatory hurdles that any startup in energy must face.
- Interoperability with other blockchains or systems.
- The cost of mining and increased awareness that blockchains are not inherently decentralized if miners can consolidate.
We’re still in a market characterized by specialized, early-stage blockchains operating proof-of-concept applications.
Some startups are promising streamlined operations and reduced cost for incumbent utilities. Some are testing ways to circumvent the utility with new forms of energy trading, or to provide something completely new, like EV-charging “roaming” services or fractional ownership of energy network assets.
As white papers have turned into pilots, we’ve been working hard to explain these market applications on GTM’s podcast, The Interchange. In the spring, we started a new segment, called “Consensus,” that explains complicated blockchain concepts and the real-world barriers to commercialization.
Below, you’ll find four of our most-listened-to episodes on blockchain. If you’re searching for a deeper understanding of the technology — or simply trying to impress your friends over the holidays — give them a listen. They’ll help you sort through (and maybe embrace) the hype.
We started the year off with a look at the fundamentals of blockchain in energy: How does tokenized energy trading work? And what are the different variations of cryptocurrency mining?
In this episode, we explored exploring the potential of peer-to-peer trading. We also gathered material from our blockchain forum in NYC, where we talked about investment trends and startup business models.
In this episode, we explored different blockchain scenarios: Which one is most likely to come to fruition? We also talked with a utility expert and an investor in the space about the opportunities they're watching.
We wrapped up 2018 with a review of the latest market developments in the second half of the year. We put the pilots and partnerships into context.
Subscribe to The Interchange podcast for more vital tech and markets coverage in 2019.