During the first weeks of August, EWF board chair and Grid Singularity co-founder Ewald Hesse undertook a multi-week, six-city Asia tour alongside EWF board member and fellow Grid Singularity co-founder Ana Trbovich. The duo visited Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Manila, conducting more than three-dozen meetings with energy and blockchain companies along the way.
They also presented at several well-attended meetups specifically organized for EWF, including:
– A crowd of nearly 150 attended their presentation in Singapore, “Future of Energy: Building the Grid on the Blockchain,” hosted by public innovation agency SGInnovate in partnership with EWF Affiliate SP Group.
– A capacity-limited crowd of 45 people attended their “Beijing EWF meetup” hosted by RMI China at popular co-working space Naked Hub Beijing.
– A crowd of about 100 attended their “CryptoAge EWF Meetup” in Tokyo hosted at incubator EdgeOf
Back home in Berlin, Hesse reflected on the current state of the energy blockchain market in Asia and where it might go next. Four key themes emerged:
1. Asia’s cryptocurrency knowledge base is strong and growing
“In countries such as Japan, Korea, China, and Singapore we found a much bigger knowledge base around cryptocurrencies generally,” says Hesse. “Much more than what we see in Europe.” This is somewhat surprising, since a city such as Berlin is often heralded as the de facto global capital for blockchain development. Yet, “we even saw large public advertisements for cryptocurrency services in the Asian countries we visited,” recalls Hesse. In fact, earlier this year The Japan Times ran a major story, “Cryptocurrency advertising goes big in Japan,” noting how celebrity-endorsed ads for crypto exchanges on massive billboards in Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing “may be a sign of how cryptocurrencies have taken center stage in both the advertising media and the broader national conversation in Japan.”
2. Energy blockchain innovation specifically is lagging
Despite broad awareness and knowledge of blockchain technology, innovation within energy blockchain specifically seems to be lagging other markets. There are, of course, exceptions—including several examples led by EWF Affiliates such as SP Group, TEPCO, Chubu Electric Power, and others. But “I was surprised to realize there are actually not so many energy blockchain startups in Asia,” explains Hesse. “The prevailing market conditions help to explain why. Most of the retail sector is not yet unbundled and therefore there is not much space for startups to innovate.” Indeed, the prevalence throughout Asia of state-owned enterprises and strict regional monopolies means that much of the innovation that is occurring grows out of forward-thinking legacy market incumbents.
3. Major players are looking to Europe and beyond for partners, solutions, and inspiration
With a relative absence of local energy blockchain startups, “many energy companies often look for blockchain solutions in Europe, the U.S., and beyond,” says Hesse. For example, earlier this year EWF Affiliate SP Group teamed up with DBS Bank and EU- and US-based EWF Affiliates and other companies, such Engie, Sonnen, Microsoft, and others to showcase simulated transactions using EW Origin. More recently, Australian-based energy blockchain startup Power Ledger made headlines when it teamed up with local partners on a peer-to-peer renewable energy trading pilot in a Bangkok neighborhood.
4. Electricity market liberalization should accelerate blockchain in the years ahead
“Throughout Asia, the most unbundled electricity market is obviously Australia. It’s no surprise then that it’s where you also count the most energy blockchain startups,” Hesse notes. But that could change soon. Many national electricity markets are in the midst of liberalization that will open up competition and retail choice, and spur a new wave of innovation—including within energy blockchain. For example, recent market liberalization in Japan has already spurred new thinking from legacy utilities and startups alike, reported Nikkei Asian Review. Later this year, Singapore will open up its electricity market. And as Reuters noted at the close of 2017, “As energy markets evolve, blockchain powers up.” Nowhere may that become truer than throughout Asia’s liberalizing electricity markets.
In the months just ahead, EWF will dedicate special attention to these markets, in order to both foster further innovation and build stronger local capacity among the blockchain developer community.
Peter Bronski (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of marketing and communications for Energy Web Foundation. He is also founder and CEO of Inflection Point Agency, through which he consults on cleantech marketing and comms for organizations such as Coronal Energy, Rocky Mountain Institute, WattTime, and others.