A decade ago, the first version appeared to forge a digital currency called bitcoin. Its record is based on an electronic blog called a blockchain in technological jargon, which captures the generation and movement of each cryptocurrency.
Now that blockchain (blockchain, in English), also known as distributed accounting, is beginning to leave the field of digital money to extend to activities as varied as the distribution of energy, the fight against corruption, the tracking of diamonds or trafficking in endangered species and consumption of water.
One of the ideas based on the blockchain that has taken off is SolarCoin (SC), created in 2014 by a group of volunteers who gave life to the eponymous foundation, to promote solar energy and which already has 4,500 users worldwide .
“We think it would be an interesting project to monitor solar energy. Launching it would not cost much and the benefits would be enormous. The original idea was to have a solar energy program, "American Nick Gogerty, one of the founders of the project, told IPS from the American city of Greenwich.
The entrepreneur, author of the book "The nature of value (2014)", acknowledged that "progress is slow", as it has taken longer than we think, but it has worked well ".
The solar generator registers its production data with the SolarCoin Foundation, the institution approves that request and users receive an SC per megawatt hour caused, which they can use in the digital market or exchange for currencies such as dollars or euros.
Transactions are collected, verified, and summarized into blocks, which create the SolarCoin distributed chain.
Distributed accounting results in a decentralized, incorruptible and auditable record of the solar energy produced. The organization maintains a public ledger that records each cryptocurrency delivered to generators.
The project, which accounts for six percent of the world's solar generation, has promoted photovoltaic power for 2,100 gigawatt hours in 68 nations.
Within Latin America, in Chile 59,965 SC have been generated; in Brazil, 12,848, and in Mexico, 1,068. 47.75 million SolarCoin circulate in the world, whose unit is priced at 0.05 US cents.
The project already has affiliated companies in Brazil, Colombia and Costa Rica.
In the report “Building Blockchains for a Better Planet”, more than 60 applications of theblockchain. The report, published in September, was prepared by the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the transnational consultancy PwC and the Woods Institute for the Environment, of the US Stanford University.
Several of these applications are used on a small scale for the generation, distribution and sale of renewable energy between consumers and those who are both users and generators, the so-called prosumers.
“The level of knowledge is still low, so far it has focused on the financial sector. But there is a lot of innovation. In energy, there are several small-scale projects. In 10 or 15 years, we will see more cross-cutting applications, "Sheila Warren, director of the project, told IPS from the American city of San Francisco.Blockchain and Distributed Accounting Technology of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution of the FEM.
The proliferation of these technologies can help the expansion of renewable energy and, incidentally, contribute to achieving seven of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which make up the 2030 Agenda for Development.
This SDG proclaims the establishment of "affordable and clean energy", to be achieved through five specific goals.
The success of the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, the program to be developed during the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All 2014-2024, which seeks to guarantee universal access to energy services, double the global rate of improvements in energy efficiency and the share of renewables in the global matrix.
For the independent Mexican expert Iván Razo, the blockchain can contribute in four ways to the development of clean energies, he explained to IPS.
The first two, he said, are: "certificates of origin of energy, tracking how, where and when it is produced, and financing through cryptocurrencies that facilitate collective support for projects."
Added to these, he detailed, "transactions between peers, consumers and small producers without the need for an intermediary and for markets in the electricity grid, transactions between companies that participate" in the transport and distribution markets.
Razo is involved in NRGcoin, emanating from the Scanergy project, funded by the European Union and which is being developed in a pilot phase in the Dutch city of Utrecht. The initiative is run by the Free University of Brussels and the technology provider Enervalis.
For every kilowatt hour of green energy used, consumers pay one NRGcoin directly to the smart contract registered on the Ethereum blockchain, a distributed ledger network.
A smart contract is a computer program that is fulfilled according to the preparation for its execution.
Through different methods, the contract validates the energy injection of the prosumers. If the reports agree, the contract issues new NRGcoin, which would start on a commercial scale next January, and rewards generators for their energy sales.
The cryptocurrencies on the network can be traded on the foreign exchange market or used to acquire green energy.
But so far the a lot of noise that the blockchain arouses does not translate into money that lubricates the energy machinery.
In the first quarter of this year, 412 distributed ledger projects attracted about $ 3.3 billion. But only about $ 100 million, about three percent of the total, is spent on energy startups.
Until now, there is a greater weight of some developed and emerging economies, such as the United States, Germany, Canada, France, China and Russia, in the concentration of blockchain initiatives in energy, while very few raise their heads in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
This imbalance is not accidental, given the technological and energy developments in the regions of the Global South.
In Latin America, the state National Energy Commission of Chile has been registering energy sector data since April through the Ethereum network on the Open Energy platform.
Gogerty foresees "significant growth" in Germany, Australia and the United States, and "higher growth" in Mexico and Brazil.
“We want more countries to join. The Latin American region has great potential. We hope that SolarCoin and other similar projects will boost renewables, ”he said.
SolarCoin aims to cover 10 percent of solar generation in 2019 and add an additional 200,000 members. It also analyzes the launch of a debit card that would operate with SC and currencies and with which the user could pay for goods and services.
For Razo, the difficulty of accessing knowledge and economic resources and the lack of incentives limit the development of these ventures in developing nations of the South.
“The scheme generates incentives, especially economic, to all the actors of the system: producers, buyers and managers of the network. The benefits are the same if they continue with the traditional incentives and the consumer pays low prices ”, he stressed.
In the coming years, the focus will be on solving the technical limitations and regulatory and legal challenges of these technologies.
The WEF, PwC and Woods Institute report outlines technology adoption challenges, computing barriers, security risks, legal, regulatory and energy consumption challenges.
Before them, it raises that it is necessary to tackle the excessive energy consumption of these systems, the data leak, the unexpected effects and their possible global reach.
By Emilio Godoy
Edition: Estrella Gutiérrez