Could this blockchain-backed smart plug change the energy game?

23 Feb 2016

Accenture has devised a smart plug that, armed with all that blockchain has to offer, could allow customers’ energy to be purchased in real time, saving them a bunch.

The way it works, according to the original report on BBC, is the plug is loaded with purchasing power, shopping around for different power suppliers in real time and buying the best-priced bundle available.

Leveraging blockchain to do this is quite interesting, as it is essentially the base upon which the likes of Bitcoin is traded, so it knows where coins are spent and swapped.

By purchasing electricity on the live market, it means that customers can finally reach the stage of energy purchasing that Comtrade’s solutions and services business director,  Dejan Cusic, predicted to a couple of weeks back.

Shopping around

Cusic said that, in a few years, energy customers will be able to buy their power, in real time, from multiple service providers, rather than relying on one contract with ESB, Airtricity or whichever.

“Different industries are at a different level with regards to digital transformation maturity,” Cusic told me. “Some of the industries, like media, for example, are very advanced. Others, like energy, are not.”

The result of going down this road? Well, not signing up to year-long contracts, cutting out many a middleman, gaining significant control and, if done right, saving on a utility that underpins much of our everyday life.

Accenture’s Emmanuel Viale told the BBC that the smart plug that his team researched modifies the basic Bitcoin blockchain technology to make it more active.

Instead of just resolving and confirming transaction records, the Accenture work has changed the blockchain to let it negotiate deals on behalf of its owner.

Arm the plug

“It’s about how we put more business behaviour or logic into the blockchain,” said Viale, adding that this essentially embeds a “smart contract” into the digital ledger.

It’s a fascinating area, but one with many pitfalls at the moment. For example, contract law is a bit behind in this regard.

As Mason Hayes & Curran wrote here a few weeks back, who is responsible for the contract when one device decides to purchase from another device?

“Under existing laws, it is possible for someone to set up recurring orders to replace items they have already ordered in person over the internet, though it is not clear if existing principles of Irish law would apply to a contract between two machines where there is no user input,” the law firm wrote.

Regardless of potential problems further down the line, innovation in the utilities markets is a must and, if Accenture can develop a plug to help do that, then it is probably good news for the customer in the long run.

Main image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic