Using digital currency to buy and sell solar FEATURE
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Blockchain technologies such as Bitcoin are turning the financial world upside down. But one of the biggest opportunities is in energy.

Solar power is already a bright light in fighting against global climate change, but it could do more than just cut energy costs. Adding a blockchain like the one used for Bitcoin could give it an extra push, and at the same time give solar panel owners a few extra bucks in their pockets.

That's what SolarCoin Foundation believes. The Foundation has launched a digital asset, SolarCoin, which uses a blockchain called ElectriCChain.

See also: Currency for the Internet of Things Era

The value of SolarCoin will likely increase as more and more people join the progam. When it hits around a million users, which the Foundation expects to happen by the end of 2019, each SolarCoin could be worth $20 to $30 per megawatt-hour.The blockchain can be used to track and trade watts of power just like any other type of goods. The concept is simple: if you have solar panels, you can download a SolarCoin wallet. Then you get a SolarCoin for each megawatt-hour of power your solar installation produces.

Right now, it does not add up to a lot of money. A SolarCoin is worth about US$0.06. If you only have a rooftop solar system, it could take a few months to produce a single megawatt-hour.

That means you won't get rich, but as Scientific American observes: "The handouts act as a reward—a little token of thanks—to the people who are already doing their part for the environment."

The value of SolarCoin will likely increase as more and more people join the progam. When it hits around a million users, which the Foundation expects to happen by the end of 2019, each SolarCoin could be worth $20 to $30 per megawatt-hour.

That would add up to a decent revenue stream for a large-scale solar firm. It would also help offset the cost of solar panels on your home. The extra money would give more and more people an incentive to install solar, even without state support.

And that's the reason SolarCoin was started in the first place, says François Sonnet, an advisor for SolarChange, which offers a SolarCoin exchange platform.

See also: Blockchain technology ushers in "the internet of value"

The idea for a blockchain-based means of exchange came from seeing solar support programs coming to an end in markets such as Europe. As a result, "there is not enough uptake of solar power any more in these markets," Sonnet says.

While SolarCoin was designed to help solve this problem, it could also be useful in a number of other ways, including generating important data.

The extra money would give more and more people an incentive to install solar, even without state support.At the moment, local power firms have their work cut out for them, trying to guess how much solar energy is going to come onto the grid at any point in time. But if each watt of power is linked to a given value, it then becomes easier to track.

The grid starts to work a bit like a clearinghouse and the production information becomes more valuable for grid operators. At the same time, SolarCoin could make it easier for people to pay for solar power.

That's because "a solar panel could be paid 90 percent in dollars and 10 percent in SolarCoins," Sonnet says.

To make it easy for users to sign up, SolarCoin is being bundled as an option in the software platforms and there has been growing interest in the concept since it was launched in January 2014.

In September, SolarCoin announced it would be one of the first systems to be hosted on SpaceBelt, a proposed space-based data center. One month later, SolarCoin went live on the Lykke Swiss exchange.

And in November ElectriCChain was showcased at the COP22 climate change talks hosted in Marrakech, Morocco, where it won an Energy Productivity Innovation Challenge Award. At the moment, SolarCoin is the world's second-largest crypto currency by market capitalization.

SolarCoins have been issued in 23 out of 215 countries and Sonnet says the cryptocurrency is built to last 40 years. Over time, it could help support 97.5 petawatt-hours of power from some 200 million solar plants.

That is almost the same as all the power used across the world in 2012, but from a single, clean source: solar energy. Of course, It remains to be seen how long it will take for SolarCoin to reach this kind of scale in practice.

But if the concept works even half as well as Bitcoin, which is now worth almost $12 billion since launching in 2009, then its future is bright.

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About Jason Deign @DeigninSpain

Jason Deign is a Barcelona-based business writer, journalist and author.