Energy, Power and Utilities

claire henly
Claire Henly of the Energy Web Foundation – Blockchain Live

Claire Henly is a senior manager at the Energy Web Foundation. Her work focuses on electricity sector planning and policy reform.

Clare studied Environmental Engineering at Yale University and spent four years working with leading US Energy Sector think tank the Rocky Mountain Institute on projects across the world. Highlights including working with China’s central government on a national 30-year low-carbon energy plan and cooperating with the Rwandan government to reduce electricity cost and increase access.

Claire co-founded fuel-cell startup Red Ox Systems and has also consulted for Cambrian Innovation. Outside of the cleantech space Claire has worked for McKinsey & Company, BHP Billiton and Goldman Sachs.

Claire recently sat down with Blockchain Live to discuss the potential of blockchain in the energy sector.

Your background is one of an engineer by training with experience in start-ups. How is it that you came to be involved at EWF and what is your current role?

I became involved with EWF because I was looking to get involved with work that would truly transform the energy sector. In my four-year tenure at RMI I’ve had a lot of different opportunities to work on transformative projects. When the EWF project started, I quickly became excited by the potential for blockchain in the energy sector and joined the team. I am currently a senior manager on the EWF team.

You are currently working with several partners in implementing blockchain for the energy sector. What are the drivers for industry involvement and would it be possible to elaborate on why you believe various representatives within the energy sector are getting involved?

The energy sector has been in flux for many years now. Solar, battery, energy efficiency, and internet-of things costs are plummeting, smart devices are proliferating, demand is flattening in the developed world and climate change concerns are putting pressure on energy market participants around the globe to go green.

Additionally, utility business models are being threatened and the old ‘one way’ utility-to-customer relationship model is no longer valid in an increasingly distributed world. Companies in the energy sector are actively looking for ways to take advantage of these shifts and remake their business models. Blockchain can provide a lot of value to these companies.

You have mentioned that of 12 different focus areas which you discussed with various partners, there were three specifically selected for exploration. What are these and why do you believe they were selected?

The three areas are demand response, utility billing and certificates of origin. I believe these three were selected because they are three of the most fundamental building blocks for further application areas.

Can you comment on how blockchain can help create greater efficiency for energy trading?

Currently traders keep individual logs of their positions and trades at any given moment. In order for multiple parties to reconcile their trades at the end of a period they all need to compare their individual books. This process is slow and prone to error and dispute. Blockchain can help by being the single, trusted record for all parties. It also removes from all groups the need for a time consuming and costly reconciliation process.

Energy regulators seem wary of blockchain, why do you think this is?

I believe regulators are wary of blockchain – as they should be wary of any new technology – because their role is to protect companies and consumers. Our hope is that by working closely with regulators and proving the value of blockchain we can show the value of the technology and help to minimise the perceived risks.

You’ve spoken of the benefits of blockchain for energy distribution. Would it be possible to elaborate on the points of low level energy transacting on a blockchain platform, bolstered security, and the ability to co-ordinate millions of devices?

The energy sector is moving to a distributed model, with distributed battery technology and demand response on the rise and distributed solar being rapidly adopted in many markets.

The current system of grid operation is not set up to coordinate all of these devices so they can actively and efficiently participate in grid operation. Instead, each device must be tracked and paid individually by the utility or system operator for individual contributions. It’s not a scalable model.

In order to operate the grid in a distributed way we need a secure operating platform that is capable of coordinating devices and handling small transactions at a very low cost. While it is still early days, Blockchain possesses the key characteristics necessary to enable truly distributed electric grid operation – it is inherently secure, it is built for coordination, and it can process transactions very cheaply.

There are barriers and technical improvements that need to be made in order for blockchain to play this role, but we believe it can fundamentally transform the electricity system, making it distributed, efficient, low cost and renewable.

Claire will present ‘How Energy can be Managed on the Blockchain’ at 2.50pm at Blockchain Live as part of the Adopter Programme. To find out more about Claire’s talk and see the full list of speakers, please visit our agenda page.

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