Energy

How blockchain is being put to work in the energy grid

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Human data is being generated, multiplying, and travelling at a faster rate than ever before in history. The information generated and shared by our consumption of renewable energy resources is just one example of data racing down the “Internet of Things” highway system, but it’s an incredibly pertinent one, especially when it comes to the security of our electric grid and the consumers connecting to it.

Blockchain technology is a chronological connection of data blocks that tracks transactions and prevents retroactive data alteration, both keeping data more secure, and allowing for faster data transaction.

Blockchain is becoming particularly attractive to utilities like ourselves, the largest utility in the state of Illinois,. ComEd is pushing the envelope on emerging technologies, investigating new frontiers like blockchain to ensure the security and resilience of the grid and maintain data integrity as consumer demands change.

From a consumer perspective, connecting to the electric system with distributed energy resources (DER) like solar panels, wind turbines, or electric vehicles may appear relatively simple.  However, utilities understand that taking full advantage of the environmental and energy-saving benefits of DERs requires a multitude of functionality considerations. These include communication among devices, like sensors, monitors, and appliance trackers, and the potential congestion resulting from energy transactions. 

After all, for more than 100 years, power companies have been the singular generators and one-way power flow is the norm.  With the increased regularity of DER integration, grid infrastructure is being updated to allow for two-way power flow, intelligent devices, and communication in order to meet customer demand and support policy initiatives designed to create a cleaner energy future.

Grid modernisation is moving at breakneck speed as a result of these drivers, and utilities are testing, piloting, and implementing new technologies to keep pace. Microgrid clusters, for example, enable power generation and distribution between individuals by allowing them to decide the amount of energy they want to share from a total surplus. ComEd is constructing the nation’s first utility operated microgrid cluster in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville.  The Bronzeville Community Microgrid, or the BCM, will have the ability to facilitate peer-to-peer energy distribution, placing a premium on grid security, efficiency and resilience.

This is where blockchain technology comes in, potentially benefitting both utilities and consumers alike. Blockchain metering would allow for the exchange of power between community members who are utilizing the microgrid; and customers would be able to monitor their own energy use and purchase energy from local solar generation owners according to preference through blockchain.

This is exciting news from a sustainability perspective, as DER owners would be able to sell excess energy, and customers would be able to use the exact amount of energy needed at precise times.  Blockchain metering would also allow for two-way energy flow throughout the network.

Blockchain technology is a relatively new concept, and the distributed energy market is still in the development stages when it comes to commercialization. What is clear is that the advanced control of communication that blockchain offers has the potential to both decentralize the grid and make it more resilient in terms of cybersecurity. This is why ComEd intends to explore blockchain technology and its potential to protect DER interactions through comprehensive cybersecurity.

ComEd will be investigating the intricacies of blockchain with a specialized project, utilizing its Grid of the Future Lab in Chicago. Through this project, ComEd will explore blockchain’s ability to protect the operational energy transactions that will one day be the new normal in a distributed electric grid.

About the authors: Nayeem Mohammad Abdullah is a Principal Project Manager in the Smart Grid and Innovation group at ComEd. Abdullah enables solutions for an advanced grid, leveraging innovative technologies and methodologies. Dr. Liuxi (Calvin) Zhang is Manager of Emerging Technologies at ComEd. He leads efforts to evaluate and demonstrate smart grid technologies including microgrids, smart inverters, and advanced sensors, and projects funded be the Department of Energy. He is a Senior Member of IEEE and has published extensively on smart grid topics. Dr. Aleksi Paaso is Director of Distribution Planning, Smart Grid & Innovation at ComEd. He is responsible for ComEd’s distribution planning activities, distributed energy resource interconnection, as well as smart grid strategy and project execution.

Interested in hearing more in person? Find out more at the Blockchain Expo World Series, Global, Europe and North America.   

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