Blockchain’s energy industry promise has come a step closer to reality with the launch of the first public, open-source, enterprise-gradeblockchainfor the sector.

The Zug, Switzerland-based Energy Web Foundation (EWF) this week said its blockchain, EW Chain, was up and running with validator nodes hosted by 10 companies within its affiliate ecosystem, which includes utilities such as Centrica, Duke Energy and E.ON.

The initial validators include the French power giant Engie, the Belgian electricity transmission system operator Elia, the distribution company Singapore Power Group, German startup OLI Technology and FlexiDAO of Spain, which works with green energy certificates.

Jesse Morris, EWF’s chief commercial officer, said EW Chain’s launch represented an unprecedented level of open-source collaboration in the global energy industry.

“We now have corporates from different markets across the world, that are not part of some standard-setting effort, hosting a part of an IT solution that is fully open source, decentralized, requires collaboration, and is public,” he said.

This level of collaboration meant the energy sector was leading blockchain development, he said. “If you look at blockchain projects in other industries, you don’t have corporates participating in public networks,” he said. “The energy sector is leading the rest of the world.”

EWF is also preparing to migrate 17 decentralized applications, or dApps, from test networks onto the EW Chain in the coming weeks. Morris said the dApps were mostly focused on three key challenges for the energy transition.

Engie, Singapore Power Group and the Thai national oil company PTT are all working on dApps to track certificates of guarantees of origin, Morris told GTM.

In regulated markets such as those in Europe, utilities like Engie could use a dApp to show customers where electricity had come from. This is something that the current regulated system does not allow, Morris said.

Emerging economies lack regulated standards, he said. “So, in places like Thailand and Singapore, now they are offering this decentralized solution that could become the regulated standard in those markets, for tracing not just electricity but carbon,” he commented.

A second focus area for the EW Chain is demand response. Here, dApps are being developed by players such as Elia and Stedin, a Dutch distribution system operator. Both have dApps that are focused on integrating small-scale distributed energy resources into the grid.

In Stedin’s case, the aim is to relieve congestion at the distribution level. Elia, meanwhile, is looking to pull down the cost of ancillary service markets, Morris explained. While such initiatives are not new, running them on EW Chain should allow the operators to reduce transaction costs and thus scale up demand response programs more quickly and efficiently. 

Finally, a third group of dApps is aimed at vehicle charging. Examples in this category include the German startups Share&Charge and Wirelane, which are looking to carry out smart charging using the EW Chain. Their dApps are expected to go live on the EW Chain in the next three to six months, said Morris.

“If you look at the energy transition more broadly, these are pretty hot topics,” he said.

The launch of the EW Chain follows more than two years of development by EWF, which was co-founded by Rocky Mountain Institute and Grid Singularity, a blockchain technology company.

The chain was designed to overcome some of the cost, scalability and power consumption problems facing traditional blockchains, mostly based on a technology called Ethereum, when used for energy sector applications.

EWF’s work garnered interest as blockchain hype reached fever pitch in 2018.

Now that the initial hype around blockchain has died down, said Morris, “there has been some significant heads-down work on building business around the technology. That’s where the focus should be this year and probably for much of 2020.”

For EWF, the launch of EW Chain means the foundation has effectively achieved its initial stated aim. Going forward, EWF will be transitioning to a new business model based on ecosystem membership, dApp and chain development and certification, and consultancy.

“In some ways, the work has just begun,” said Morris.

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