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Vive La Révolution Digitale: A Parisian Suburb Started Testing A Renewable Energy Blockchain

March 27, 2017
The Jean Jaurès elementary school in the town of Rueil-Malmaison outside of Paris is full of French charm. Light streams into a room on the second floor through colored glass casting playful reflections on the floor. Like all schools, the place is an incubator for young brains but also for a piece of cutting-edge technology: the world’s first “green” blockchain.
The system, which was developed by the energy tech startup Evolution Energie, enables users to track renewable power as it moves through the electrical grid and mixes with energy from other sources. “Using blockchain, you can sell energy from your renewable sources to your neighbor without the help of a utility managing the process,” says Fabien Imbault, Evolution Energie’s managing director. “You could share your energy with neighbors or even sell it to a parked electric car on your street and get paid securely.”

Evolution Energie started by building an interface that was simple enough for students at the school to purchase “green” energy from renewable energy sources. They’ve since rolled the system out to the town’s municipal buildings. Up next: businesses and homes.

Blockchain is the distributed ledger technology best known as the underpinning of the virtual currency bitcoin. As people minted and then traded bitcoins, the blockchain recorded every transaction on a digital ledger that was shared by thousands of different computers. This innovation created a permanent, accurate, searchable, and anonymous record that can be quickly updated. Unless otherwise compromised, its decentralized nature also makes it extra secure.

 width=Top illustration: “Using blockchain, you can sell energy from your renewable sources to your neighbor,” says Fabien Imbault, Evolution Energie’s managing director. Image credit: Getty Images. Above: An image of the ledger of the green blockchain. Image credit: Evolution Energie.

The jury is still out on whether bitcoin will ever rise to the level of a currency like the dollar, but blockchain holds the promise of revolutionizing any industry that requires recorded transactions.

Power is one of them. A rising percentage of electricity comes from renewable energy — small wind farms, factories generating excess electricity and individual homes and offices producing power from solar panels. We need a system that can track the buying and selling of electricity generated by these distributed, Imbault says.

Imbault and his colleagues realized that by using the blockchain, they could connect all of those producers in a secure way, and develop a new marketplace where anyone can sell energy at the right price as easily as they can sell shares on a stock exchange.

The blockchain can be also used to certify renewable energy as authentically “green,” Imbault says. This could enable the trading of renewable energy certificates and lead to a world where green energy commands a premium price, if demand is high enough. The area around the environmentally-friendly Rueil-Malmaison is a good location to test the idea because of the town’s eco-district called Arsenal.

Evolution Energie — which makes software for energy monitoring and environmental reporting as well as commodities trading and risk management — is building the system on Predix, GE’s platform for the Industrial Internet. Its engineers are working at the European Digital Foundry in Paris, where, among other things, GE seeds startups that are developing innovative applications for the Industrial Internet. The firm was one of the five winners of GE’s Digital Industry Europe competition, where GE selected startups to work with on Predix-based products.

Evolution Energy plans to offer its blockchain electricity trading system to energy-sharing communities around the world by the end of the year. Imbault says that without collaborating with GE, the French startup would have struggled with the global nature of the challenge. Says Imbault: “GE gives us the ability to provide this service at the city scale around the world.”