In Brooklyn, for the first time, neighbors are buying and selling their own electricity using the blockchain. In France, Paillasse Saône launched the Daisee project to invent a new relationship with energy. Olivier Blondeau explains why it’s time to move on from “to each according to his means” to “to each according to his needs”.
In The Third Industrial Revolution, Jeremy Rifkin announced a new era as early as 2011, namely, the Internet of energy—managing energy flows based on the decentralized principles of the Internet in favor of renewable energy sources.
While seductive, this hypothesis seemed rather distant, even utopic for some. Beyond more or less legitimate political and democratic considerations lies a very simple technical reason: energy, contrary to common belief, cannot be stored—at least, not yet. What is produced must be consumed in real time. The network must constantly be balanced, unlike data that can be stored on servers in the Cloud. This challenge is all the more complex when we consider that our beloved renewable energies, for the most part, have the bad habit of producing electricity only on an intermittent basis.
Under these circumstances, how can we incite consumers to consume electricity at that very moment when it is easiest to produce, and therefore when it is cheapest? Simple—use the “price signal”, in other words, “to each according to his means”. If I want electricity at a time when everyone needs it, I just have to pay more for it.
From this perspective, intelligent or communicating counters are revolutionary. Before, there were only two separate charge rates for electricity (normal rate and day/night rate). ERDF’s Linky counter in France offers a dozen different rates, depending on the time of day, season, weather conditions and, why not, geographic area. As in the UK, ERDF offers cheaper rates on Saturdays, but no doubt rates also rise on weekdays between 7 PM and 9 PM.
But what is the alternative to “to each according to his means”? Of course, political specialists of the 19th century will say “to each according to his needs”. In terms of electricity consumption, this idea is based on two conditions: first, that each one knows what his needs are, and is capable of controlling them (if only to not consume more than he needs); second, that each one can “negotiate” his needs with others according to available resources. Knowing our needs and controlling them are what make possible systems such as Open Energy Monitor in the UK and Citizenwatt in France, which help us to better understand our consumption habits, and hopefully reduce their quantity.
Negotiating electricity with my neighbor
But the second condition is more complex. How can I negotiate with my neighbors, in a context where renewable energies are developing (via solar panels and domestic windmills) enough to supply me with sufficient energy using available resources? My counter “only” has to “know” my consumption needs and habits to compare with the overall quantity of energy produced by my neighborhood in order to negotiate, in a completely decentralized and secure manner, with my neighbors’ counters.
Hence the emergence of “microgrids” (intelligent electric micro-networks), based on blockchain technology, that enable secure peer-to-peer transactions, without mediation and currently applied to energy distribution. A sort of P2P energy.
Recently, a number of initiatives have been synergizing production of renewable energy, rate charges using decentralized blockchain technology, and the essential corollary, responsible energy consumption. One of these initiatives is the Transactive Grid experiment in Brooklyn, New York, where five buildings have been fitted with photovoltaic panels, merging renewable energy production with the sharing economy via blockchain technology. For the first time, this solution, based on the Ethereum platform, allows neighbors to buy and sell locally produced energy. The benefits can then be reinvested by the community in local facilities.
Many commercial projects have followed suit in applying these principles of decentralized energy production and transaction. A typical example is Daisee (Decentralized Autonomous Interconnected Systems for Energy Efficiency), recently launched during the Hackaday contest hosted by Paillasse Saône in France.
While all around France, people are thinking about ways to live standing up, both night and day, makers have much to do in this movement to invent new ways to live responsibly and sustainably.
Read previous contributions to Makery by Olivier Blondeau, co-author of “Libres enfants du savoir numérique” (Eclat, 2000)