A modern localized power ecosystem Thomas Edison would be proud of

It’s been said that a tree grows in Brooklyn. Based on my recent visit with Architectural Grille, so does innovation. I was blown away how this company, a light commercial business that is member of the Brooklyn Microgrid is strategically looking to make itself and the surrounding community more resilient. From embracing solar power and implementing the latest manufacturing technologies to creating local jobs, I was able to see firsthand the spirit of modern capitalism and how an established business was looking for new ways to not only stay cutting edge, but to be sustainable to its very core. No greater example of this was management’s willingness to join a pilot study (see video below) aimed at tapping data analytics to examine how to monetize excess energy production through a blockchain platform that can foster a localized peer-to-peer energy marketplace, nothing short of a transformative concept in the power sector. 

For starters, until now, “transformative” is not a word typically associated when ones thinks about the utility sector, but thanks to peer-to-peer energy markets, it can be. As it stands now, even though the power grid is truly remarkable, it’s also complex at best. It’s not efficient since power often is required to travel long distances to reach its destination (homes, buildings, schools, hospitals, etc.). Then there’s demand. Quite frankly, the power grid was not meant to satisfy 21st Century needs. Therefore infrastructure is simply a liability, especially when you consider that some U.S. areas are already dealing with record-high power demand. That demand is only going to intensify as climate change results in rising temperatures and a greater need for AC. Then there’s the explosion in Internet of Things (IoT) which should further cause grid strain, especially since the number of connected devices will top 500 billion by 2030 according to Cisco Systems

This then begs the question, couldn’t the grid be cleaner, more flexible and more resilient? The answer is, hell yeah! In fact, it can be all that things and much more if electricity was more locally concentrated. Now that’s a novel idea. I mean why rely on antiquated power infrastructure first invented in the 19th Century by Thomas Edison? At present, power may be derived from fossil fuels, including burning dirty coal or it is transmitted great lengths by high-voltage transmission lines that are not only are extremely vulnerable to Mother Nature, they also lose some power before electricity reaches the end users. 

For those that are not familiar the generation of power, there are a great number of complexities to our power grid behind the scenes that you may never have considered when you flipped your light switch in - namely that the basic structure of the grid is immensely complicated and requires generating stations, transmission lines and substation transformers before the power even reaches your local utility company. 

This has me excited about the rise of a microgrid infrastructure, a more decentralized grid that produces energy closer to the source and the role blockchain technology can play in this new system advancement. While blockchain has been primarily seen as optimal solution to secure financial transactions, it can also be tapped to enable a more localized energy market that is more efficient, one that could even disrupt the way electricity is delivered. In fact, now that electricity may come from your very neighbor. 

Sounds cool right? The story gets better. Drum-roll please - the price of solar power continues to plummet and be more cost effective for local communities. This means modern energy solutions such as solar power need modern energy platforms that can transfer energy from one party to the next. Additionally, as communities become more digitalized, safeguarding energy infrastructure from hacking should be critical to local governments. 

Using blockchain technology and its secure encryption process can help ward off cyberattacks which threaten our grid. Now add in the fact that peer-to-peer energy markets can help stimulate local economies by monetizing excess energy, by rewarding solar energy production and by creating jobs and you could enact a modern localized power ecosystem that can truly become more resilient in ways Thomas Edison would likely be proud of. That really is a bright idea! 

John Licata is a Strategist and Communications Lead at Blue Phoenix Inc.focusing on the future of energy and digital innovation. You can follow John on Twitter @bluephoenixinc.