Using a Blockchain for a Smarter Energy Grid

Blockchain technology stems from Bitcoin and provides a platform for change greater than Bitcoin itself. Researchers in the renewable energy industry have realized that blockchains can be used to replace outdated billing and tracking. Presently when a company produces energy it requires verification form other companies and each step eats into profits – a more efficient system would be use blockchains to verify the system by cutting out the middleman. The blockchain also provides a transparent solution that makes for easier monitoring and accountability than what’s currently provided.

The blockchain being used the example below is powered using my favourite cryptocurrency Ethereum. It is another way that distributed ledger systems mixed with computing power can alter our economies for the better.

Keeping track of renewable-energy certificates is one of dozens of potential applications of blockchain technology that could solve data management challenges in the electricity sector without disrupting business as usual, according to Morris. He and many others believe that in the long term, the technology could help transform the very architecture of the grid itself.

To unleash the potential of blockchain in the energy sector, Jesse Morris’s team at RMI has joined with Austria-based blockchain startup Grid Singularity to create a new nonprofit called the Energy Web Foundation. Earlier this month, the EWF launched its own blockchain, which Morris says is “purpose-built for the energy sector.” Based on Ethereum, the network will be a test bed for promising use cases. To validate transactions during the test, EWF will rely on 10 major energy companies that have signed on as affiliates.

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The Growth of Solar Power is Shaking Power Companies

Solar panels have come down in price rather dramatically in the last decade and if this trend continues it can be the death of old-school electric utilities. That is, unless the energy companies embrace solar and embed it into their system. Smart companies see the writing on the wall and others will start to falter.

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So even though solar provides just 0.4 percent of America’s electricity, it’s growing at a shocking rate. Rooftop solar generation has roughly tripled since 2010. By some estimates, a new solar system is installed every four minutes in the United States.

To electric utilities, this poses a dilemma. As rooftop solar becomes more popular, people will buy less and less electricity from their local power company. But utilities still have plenty of fixed costs for things like maintaining the grid. So, in response, those utilities will eventually have to raise rates on everyone else. Trouble is, those higher electricity rates could spur even more people to install their own solar rooftop panels to save money. Cue the death spiral.

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Build Your Own Wind Turbine

Off the gird living just got a little easier thanks to inventor Daniel Connell who has put instructions on how to build a wind turbine for $30 online. It’s not the most efficient and powerful generator out there but anybody with basic knowledge of drills can build it.

Creating something that can deliver a few hundred watts–enough to pump water, say–might not be that difficult. Daniel Connell, who’s drawn up a blueprint to show you how, swears that anyone who “can cut paper and hold a drill” can manage it.

“I’m hoping the animation is such that nothing needs to be left to the imagination of the person following the tutorial,” he says via email.

See Connell’s 52-step tutorial here and his animation below. It basically involves creating a template from paper, cutting aluminum into shapes, then bending and riveting the vanes to a bike wheel. The rest, as they say, is details.

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Germany’s Sustainable Energy Grid Keeps Improving

In May, Germany was able to supply 50% of their national energy consumption using renewable power sources. That was remarkable in itself given the size of Germany in both industrial and population size.

Now, it’s been announced that for the first half 2012 Germany produced 67.9 billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy which makes up a quarter of all energy production this far into the year.

Biomass, or material acquired from living organisms, accounted for 5.7 percent and solar technology for 5.3 percent.

Solar energy saw the biggest increase, up 47 percent from the previous year. Germany is the world’s top market for power converted from solar radiation and its installed capacity accounts for more than a third of the global total.

Germany aims to derive 35 percent of its total energy needs from renewable sources by 2035.

Link for more info.

Thanks to Reddit, here’s a website that tracks energy production by type.

Ice Can Help Power Grids During Peak Use

Air conditioners use a ton of energy and when everyone has their’s running the load on the power grid can be pushed to the limit. At night, when it’s generally cooler, the power grid isn’t being used nearly as much. A company called Ice Energy is using that extra night time capacity to make ice, which is then used to cool buildings as a compliment to exiting AC setups.

The building owner gets cheaper power, and the utility gets a solution to its peak power problems, said Mike Hopkins, executive vice president of corporate development. That all comes at a cost of roughly $2,200 per kilowatt of installed capacity, a figure that’s quite competitive with other forms of distributed energy storage, he said.

It’s a growing business. Ice Energy is now roughly halfway through fulfilling the 53 megawatts of Ice Bear units it has contracted to provide its biggest customer, the Southern California Public Power Authority, which buys power for municipal utilities around the SoCal region. That relationship also led the company to relocate from Windsor, Colo. to Glendale, Calif. last month, and to decide to focus on California as its key market, Hopkins said.

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