Coming Out of Davos, A Role for Blockchain in the Global Energy Transition

 By Peter Bronski on February 7, 2019

Late last month, many of the world’s political, business, and civic leaders—some 3,000 of them in all—once again gathered in Davos amidst Switzerland’s mountains for the 49th annual World Economic Forum (WEF). The theme of this latest installment focused on “Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”


Although some used words such as “uncertainty” to characterize both the mood in Davos and the global outlook for 2019, here at Energy Web Foundation we came away with a different conclusion: optimism, coupled with emboldened confidence in blockchain’s important role to enable and accelerate the global energy transition toward a digitalized, decentralized, and decarbonized electricity system.


Fighting climate change takes center stage


A number of topics took center stage, from political and economic instability, to trade tensions, the plight of refugees, to varying visions for the future of work. But one topic in particular “dominated the discussions,” according to a WEF recap of the event: the severity and urgency of climate change.


Rocky Mountain Institute CEO and EWF council member Jules Kortenhorst underscored a call for accelerated action toward a low-carbon future, including energy efficiency and renewable energy. “The energy transition has arrived. After years of merely talking about change, there is now significant acceleration in the transition from a high-carbon to a low-carbon energy system,” he wrote in a piece preceding his appearance on an energy transition panel at Davos. Then urged that “we must move even faster.”


Blockchain steps into the spotlight


In the wake of WEF, London Business School professor and Forbes columnist Julian Birkinshaw rounded up the digital technologies that attracted the most interest in Davos. It comes as no surprise—at least to us here at EWF—that blockchain made the list. “Blockchain reality is setting in, sensible use cases are emerging,” he wrote, concluding that “the long-term potential of blockchain is enormous, but it needs to gain the trust of users to realize that potential.”


When it comes to blockchain in the energy sector, those “users” include utilities, grid operators, renewable energy companies, software developers, and a long list of others. Nearly 100 of them are counted as Affiliates of EWF, and a number were also in attendance at Davos, including Centrica, Engie, Iberdrola, Shell, and Siemens. As the Energy Web Chain moves closer to genesis block later this year, that robust ecosystem represents the users that will truly bring blockchain into the energy sector’s mainstream.


Applying open-source innovation against compelling use cases


A closely related theme also rose to the top during Davos: that of open-source software and its role in technology innovation. “The best developers want to use the best technology, and today, the best technology is open source,” said venture capitalist Jacob Jofe in an interview with Forbes contributor Peter High. In short, companies are leveraging the open-source code domain to prompt faster, better digital innovation than any single company could achieve in traditional, siloed approaches.


That, in fact, is a founding principle of the Energy Web Chain, whose core tech blockchain base layer and supporting software modules like those of EW Origin have purposefully been developed as open-source, to speed adoption and innovation among EWF Affiliates and the broader energy blockchain ecosystem embracing this nascent but fast-maturing technology.


Pioneering the pathway ahead for energy blockchain


Another EWF council member in attendance at Davos was Ana Trbovich, PhD, COO of Grid Singularity and an invited speaker on two panels. Grid Singularity had special recognition at this year’s WEF, since it was bestowed the prestigious title of being a Technology Pioneer in 2018 for “the design, development and deployment of new technologies and innovations [that] are poised to have a significant impact on business and society.” That includes the Grid Singularity team’s work both supporting the Energy Web Chain and continuing development of the D3A model for decentralized, transactive energy markets.


In the end, Davos in January 2019 proved to be “a place for personal development as much as it is a platform for business development facilitating direct access to decision makers,” noted Trbovich. “This year’s WEF was a place where you could see up close and talk to people who you professionally admire, like Gita Gopinath, Christine Lagarde, Adena Friedman—or Steven Forbes, Bono, and the legendary Sir David Attenborough. It was a place where you could meet an artist who has taught blind people to express themselves as artistic photographers, and a place where you could spread EWF’s vision very effectively.”


That vision feels clearer than ever. And perhaps more importantly, that vision feels more attainable and within reach than ever, as EWF, co-founders Rocky Mountain Institute and Grid Singularity, the growing Affiliate ecosystem, and the broader market realize the potential inherent in blockchain and now seize it to usher in a digitalized, decentralized, decarbonized energy future.


Peter Bronski ([email protected]) is director of marketing and communications for Energy Web Foundation.

The Energy Web is accelerating a low-carbon, customer-centric electricity system by unleashing the potential of open-source, decentralized, digital technologies.

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