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区块链成全能军 这次准备进军能源领域

如今,区块链这个热词也开始出现在了能源行业。

人们对区块链的认识一般都局限在为跟踪数字货币比特币而创立的公共数据库这个概念。它按照时间顺序记录和链接每一个网络内交易,使得比特币变得更加安全同时还能保证分散性。区块链是比特币可以存在以及比特币交易如此受到信赖的主要原因。

但是区块链概念如今已经逐渐走出比特币的限制。比如,现在就有专家考虑是否可以将区块链用于追踪电子在分布式输电网上的流动。

如果未来双向电子系统由亿万个终端链接,并且与微电网、太阳能系统、智能家电、分布式计算和能源管理软件相互作用,那么如何创造一个安全的系统,瞬间显示自动化操作的市场条件变化。

很多人相信区块链技术可以作为系统的基础设置。比如,LO3 Energy就建立了一个利用“开源但加密”的区块链进行输电网管理的平台。

LO3 Energy公司创始人Lawrence Orsini表示:“比特币在很大情况下改变了金融,但能源领域的区块链应用可能会发挥更大的作用。”就在上周,Orsini与一些区块链爱好者和麻省理工的能源专业人士进行了一场关于区块链如何应用到能源系统(主要是快速变化的电网)的讨论。此次讨论由GTM公司首席执行官Scott Clavenna主持。

除了一些早期的论证,区块链在电网的应用还基本处于理论阶段。只有一些早期参与者正在进行能源与设备认证系统的开发,大多数人还是苦苦寻找区块链技术在能源领域的应用点,以及如何将想法变为现实。

在12月由德勤大学出版社出版的有关区块链如何进入其他行业的作品中,David Schatsky和 Craig Muraskin为这个吸引人的概念提供了一个清晰的解释:“区块链技术提供了一种记录交易或者任何数字互动方式,在一定程度上它是安全透明、稳定可审以及高效的;因此,它包含着改变金融服务等行业,改造会计和审计等业务并产生新的商业模式的可能性。”

目前,LO3 Energy已经建立了两个节点,它们在微网上采集电量和发电数据并且“不断汇入区块链”。

今年1月,以区块链技术为基础,IBM和三星推出了用于控制连接设备的的早期概念平台ADEPT。这个平台采用Ethereum开发的软件并且可以认证“智能合同”。举例来说,这些“合同”可以是屋内设备间的微交互,因此它们对于网络改变瞬间并且自动地反应。安永技术战略首席Paul Brody称之为“民主设备”。

IBM在民主设备白皮书草案上写到:“我们通过这个实验向大家证明,一个简易的洗衣机也可以通过ADEPT成为能够管理自己供需的半自动式设备,实现自助服务和维护,甚至可以和其他屋内屋外设备谈判来优化自己的环境。”

Brody曾在IBM工作并且协助建立ADEPT平台。“我们需要一个全新的方式来管理连接设备的物联网,”,而区块链就是起始点。

Brody说,在未来,所有通过网络的智能设备——或许是由ADEPT连接——将能够安全地发送和接收数据,同时自主地对市场信号做出反应。而这一切都将被被隐藏到普通消费者中。

“大多数消费者不知道或者不关心他们的设备是否运行在区块链上。如果我要考虑节省的每百万兆千瓦时,那么这就永远不会发生,”他说。

除了LO3 Energy和IBM以外,一家来自维也纳的创业公司Grid Singularity也正在尝试用区块链来验证能源。该公司瞄准了发展中国家,在那里即期购买太阳能更加安全。它的最终目标是为能源系统建立一个区块链平台,从而可以实现大规模电网应用。

Grid Singularity联合创始人和首席执行官Ed Hesse还没有发现其他完全竞争的平台。

比特币证实了区块链的可行。现在投资者们、初创企业们和IBM等投资巨头都在投资来测试如何将其应用在能源和更广泛的物联网。所以区块链将如何应用到这些领域呢?没人能给出确切答案。也许首先会在智能仪表,然后在家电上,最后应用于微网。目前理论和提案远多于现实世界的例子。

尽管监管者可能喜欢在未来使用区块链来协助监管网络的想法,但是他们其实还没有开始考虑如何支持它。

“你会看到很多人在黑暗中摸索,直到有人找到灯的开关,” Brody总结道,“现在对于能源区块链来说仍然是早期概念。发现早期应用案例是非常重要的。但是所有专家都认为伟大的设想在想阶段更重要。”

Ito说:“只用区块链技术做账单表是一种浪费!”

希望区块链在能源领域能够成为越来越受欢迎的词。但是不要高估年来的小导向器和概念框架。

"We are on the ground floor of one of the most significant transitions in human history."

There's a new buzzword emerging in the energy industry: blockchain.

Blockchain is commonly known as the public database created to track the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. It chronologically records and links every transaction made across the network, making Bitcoin more secure and keeping authentications decentralized. Blockchain is the reason Bitcoin can exist and transactions using it can be trusted.

But the blockchain concept isn't limited to Bitcoin. Experts are now asking if it can be used to track the flow of electrons on a distributed grid.

If the future two-way electric system is made up of billions of endpoints interacting with each other -- microgrids, solar systems, smart appliances, in-field distributed computing and energy management software -- how do you create a secure system that can verify instantaneous, autonomous transactions across these nodes as market conditions change?

Many people believe that the blockchain can serve as the foundation of this system.

"Bitcoin is largely changing finance. But moving into blockchain energy could be much bigger than Bitcoin," said Lawrence Orsini, the founder ofLO3 Energy, a company building an "open-source, cryptographically secure" blockchain to manage transactions across a microgrid.

Orsini joined a group of other blockchain enthusiasts and energy professionals at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this weekto discuss how the concept could be applied to the energy system -- primarily the fast-changing electric grid. The conversation was moderated by GTM CEO Scott Clavenna.

Aside from some early demonstrations, the applicability of blockchain on the electric grid is largely theoretical. At this stage, a few early participants are designing authentication systems specifically for energy and appliances. But mostly, people are trying to wrap their heads around where the blockchain could be applied -- and how to get it started.

"It's quite early. But I've been looking at the blockchain for about four years, and I've realized its potential implications across many industries, including energy," said Chris Taylor, a senior dispatcher at NRG, setting up the night's conversation. "We are on the ground floor of one of the most significant transitions in human history."

In a December piece published by the Deloitte University Press on how blockchain is moving into other industries, David Schatsky and Craig Muraskin offered a clear explanation for why it's such an attractive concept: "Blockchain technology offers a way of recording transactions or any digital interaction in a way that is designed to be secure, transparent, highly resistant to outages, auditable, and efficient; as such, it carries the possibility of disrupting industries such as financial services, remaking business practices such as accounting and auditing, and enabling new business models."

Energy is one of those industries that could be transformed by blockchain, argues a growing group of believers. (Although Schatsky and Muraskin point out that "there is little concrete happening" in energy at the moment.)

That hasn't stopped experts from dreaming and experimenting.

"We can turn Bitcoin into almost anything," said Joi Ito, the director of MIT's media lab, speaking on a panel of energy and blockchain experts.

LO3 Energy has already built out two nodes that are collecting consumption and generation data across the microgrid and "feeding it into a blockchain," said Orsini.

"They're not quite ready for prime time, but [the nodes] are up and running," he said.

In January, IBM and Samsung unveiled an early platform for controlling connected devices based on the blockchain concept, called ADEPT. The platform uses software developed by Ethereum that authenticates "smart contracts." Those "contracts" could be micro-transactions between appliances within a home as they react instantaneously and autonomously to changing conditions on the grid, for example.

Paul Brody, the leader of Ernst & Young's technology strategy arm, called this "device democracy."

"We demonstrate how, using ADEPT, a humble washer can become a semi-autonomous device capable of managing its own consumables supply, performing self-service and maintenance, and even negotiating with other peer devices both in the home and outside to optimize its environment," wrote IBM in a draft white paper on device democracy. (The final white paper can be found here.)

Brody formerly worked at IBM and helped build the ADEPT platform. "We needed a completely new way to manage connected devices for the internet of things," he said. Blockchain was the place to start.

In the future, all smart devices across a network -- perhaps connected by ADEPT -- will be able to securely send and receive data while autonomously reacting to market signals. And this will all be hidden to the average consumer, said Brody.

"Most consumers will not know or care if their appliances run on blockchain. If I have to think about every trillionth of a kilowatt-hour I've saved, it's never going to happen," he said.

Along with LO3 Energy and IBM, a Vienna-based startup called Grid Singularity is also experimenting with blockchain to authenticate energy transactions. The company is targeting developing countries, where it wants to make pay-as-you-go solar more secure. Its eventual goal is to build a blockchain platform for energy systems that can be applied to any type of transaction on the grid.

Ed Hesse, the co-founder and CEO of Grid Singularity, doesn't see other platforms as full-on competitors yet. "I don't see one universal blockchain. I see many different blockchains that overlap," said Hesse.

Bitcoin proved blockchain can work. Now investors, startups and behemoths like IBM are investing real money to test how it could be applied to energy and the broader internet of things. So how would blockchain be adopted in those sectors?

No one had a precise answer. Perhaps in smart meters first, then in appliances, and then across a microgrid. There are currently far more theories and proposals than real-world examples.

And while regulators might like the idea of using blockchain to help monitor the grid of the future, they haven't even begun to grapple with how to support it.

"You're going to see a lot of fumbling in the dark until someone finds a light switch," concluded Brody.

It's still early days conceptually for the energy blockchain. Finding early-adoption cases is important. But all the experts agreed that big thinking is just as crucial at this stage.

"It would be a waste to just use the blockchain to just do meter billing," said Ito.

Expect blockchain to become an increasingly popular term in energy. But don't expect much more than small pilots and conceptual frameworks for many years to come.


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