I attended a TED style energy conference about a week ago and the consensus was that the future utility is here regardless of how reluctant the industry is. With impending delivery of Tesla Powerwalls and continued reduction in solar panel prices (with science now able to facilitate solar power generation even in rainy conditions [PDF]) fundamental change is not just imminent, it is here.
I wrote a future utility post a year ago and in it I suggested a scenario where
'Sam is considered as a 'node' on the future power grid (with a card and app to manage energy use)... Sam's home is powered by a rooftop solar panel and she has a neighbor, Jo (with his own + or -), who doesn't drive, doesn't own a solar panel and trades stocks for a living. Jo uses a lot more electricity than Sam by running servers at home. Some days Jo (conceptually) 'gets' electricity from Sam's 'home battery' or Walgreens or wind farm depending on whether Jo 'wants' renewable energy. Jo is another node on the grid'.
That scenario is closer than I projected all because of Blockchain. As I share in my ebook Managing Technological Change In The Utility Industry I see 3 areas of fundamental change
- Consumer data management: The ledger function that the Blockchain provides will allow 3rd party technology and service providers to safely interact with the end consumer in a relationship that up until now didn't exist; the utility acted as the gatekeeper of consumer data preventing access to the services that we now take for granted in other industries for example the ability to get contracts based on your customized usage profile.
- Retail trading between consumers: the contract between you and the utility is for the utility to generate and deliver electricity to your home. This is about to change. Smart contracts, enabled by blockchain, will enable a solar panel plus Powerwall owner to sell electricity to their neighbors, effectively cutting out the utility. It's already being piloted in NY and will be an area of huge impact. Yes, the future is now.
- Utility security: data transmission, and consequently data security, at the scale the utility has never known is currently at the top of industry concerns. Secure data transmission, using the blockchain and its public/private key cryptography and cryptographic signatures (amongst other cryptographic techniques), takes away the pain of the utility CIO.
Time for the industry to wake up.