#Energy | #IoT | #Consumption | #Trading | #SmartStorage | #SmartContract | #SmartGrids
Narrative [7-8 min read]
The point of departure for Gigbliss was the energy sector. The group behind this prototype was composed by Chris Speed (University of Edinburgh) and Larissa Pschetz (University of Edinburgh) as lead designers, Marco Sachy (Dyne.org), Michael Rüther (Spherity GmbH) and Juri Mattila (ETLA / Research Institute of the Finnish Economy) as expert stakeholders, and Rory Gianni (University of Edinburgh), Katherine Snow (Povo design) and Linda Ma (Povo design) in support to the prototype production.
The work started with the notion of smart domestic appliances to be attached to different levels of control offered to consumers and based upon the cost of ‘instant access’ energy. The initial assumptions for this prototype were that traditional domestic products tend toward on demand models of energy, in which consumers have complete control of when they want energy for an appliance to work. Using the notion of blockchain as support to smart energy balancing contracts, the group then progressed on top of three categories that challenge this status quo and could gradually move domestic appliances from human control to machine control on the intersection of DLTs with IoT.
In an H2m model (Human to machine, with main control by the human agent), traditional appliances usually have a button or interface that allows the consumer to turn it on and use it at will. New models were discussed to develop IoT products linked to blockchain systems, such as h2M (human to Machine, with main control by the machine agent), m2M (machine to Machine, with main control by the second machine agent) and M2M (Machine to Machine, with distributed control between both machine agents).
In a first model, h2M, buttons on devices could be actived by consumers to signal the intention to initiate the operation of the device. However, the device would delay being turned on until it found the best energy price by trading on the open energy market according to the balancing of energy demand. This would cause a delay in the user getting their device to function, but it would guarantee lower energy costs through the execution of smart contract linked to the product’s operations.
In a second model, m2M, there would be no buttons. Instead, products would operate once a day at a time when they were able to get the best possible price for energy. It would require consumers to remain highly alert to the sound of m2H hairdryers turning on in order to have the possibility of using them. Or it would require them to prepare appliances such as washing machines in advance, filling them with clothes and detergent to function when the price is right.
A third model, M2M, would imply funding the appliance energy costs through tokenisation schemes. An entirely autonomous suite of renewable energy products would ‘take jobs’ in an emerging ‘gig energy market’ to sell energy back to those who pay for it the most. Beyond energy consuming products, in this case we could even have solar panels that bid for energy jobs, pay off their sponsors, and invest in replicating themselves with automated demands for the production of new solar panels to complement demand.
After several iterations, the group’s final output was a suite of three similar Gigbliss hairdryers with AUTO, BALANCE and PLUS models, which loosely follow the three models enunciated before. The hairdryers mainly differ from each other due to three different user models of energy consumption and management executed through smart contracts linked to blockchain based energy trading and management platforms.
The first hairdryer is Gigbliss AUTO, presented under the slogan “More for everyone”. This product could be available for free through local Councils, community services and charities. To maximise investment for all, it would turn on at off-peak times, and allow use at no cost until a specific period ends. But energy would only be supplied at pre-defined times.
A “timely bargain because every minute counts”, Gibliss AUTO would imply a smart contract set by a fictional Gigbliss&Co to allocate the sponsor’s budget and supply energy to the max number of households at off-peak times. Councils or charities could sponsor energy supply for deprived communities by allocating Gigbliss tokens to sponsor energy supply for a large number of households. Gigbliss Coins would be transferred back to the sponsor, and Gigbliss Tokens could be transferred to trading platforms.
The second hairdryer is Gigbliss BALANCE, presented under the motto “Balance is all you need”. When inactive this appliance would trade energy through a smart contract devised on top of a blockchain, allowing costs and energy prices to be drastically minimised to users. Available at mid price ranges for users to dry their hair when energy prices are low, Gigbliss BALANCE could become a convenient and economic option for everyone.
To lower costs even more, this appliance could also be based on a sustainable business model that allow consumers to host the hairdryer and return it to the Gigbliss factory when they no longer need it. Similar to the previous model, Gigbliss Coins and Tokens could be also object of transfer and trading, now considering a scenario where a Gigbliss & Co cryptocurrency wallet is put into place.
The third and last hairdryer of the suite is Gigbliss PLUS, with the catchphrase “Because you are worth it”. It is a hairdryer that would earn money for users, trading for instance with a wide net of microgrid energy providers fully integrated into blockchain systems. By combining a patent-pending energy storage technology with the ability to track energy prices, this hairdryer would let owners buy energy when prices are low and sell when they are high. Or yet it could provide an IoT-driven system that could simply analyse the market and find and execute the best deals for the owners.
The main idea of Gigbluss PLUS is putting the user in control if compared with the other models. It would still benefit, however, from automated procedures where smart contracts regulate transactions with energy suppliers. Coins and Tokens would be exchanged with Energy units based on standards such as ERC20, assuming that owners synchronise their devices with their own cryptocurrency wallet when acquiring the hairdryer.
The Gigbliss suite attempts to question upfront what kind of changes take place when blockchain based systems start mediating energy transactions between consumers and the grid. The starting point for this group was that nowadays energy provisions in Europe are mostly based on large power plants, which generate energy and transmit it to national grids and then to cities, companies and households. National grids are well established, regulated, and centralised. A few emerging trends, however, suggest different energy futures.
Distributed energy generation, for example would allow smaller companies and even households to produce and sell energy in a free market economy. The key idea is that with blockchain infrastructures, energy could be produced at small scale and traded more flexibly. This could enhance for instance green energy production, increase competition and create new ways of consuming and adding value to energy, according to peak times and access to energy storage. Gigbliss envisions a future where domestic devices would be able to store and/or adapt energy usage to fluctuations in prices and demand, thus contributing to a discussion on the potential relations between blockchains and energy systems.
Within the Gigbliss scenario, blockchains would have the ability to guarantee data immutability based on cryptography, and distribution and synchronisation of records across multiple locations. They could host immutable algorithms, or so called smart contracts, which could securely perform transactions according to pre-defined conditions. This way, blockchains would be used to manage transactions across small energy providers and consumers in a secure and transparent way, allowing new energy production, distribution and consumption models to emerge.
Other questions still emerge through this prototype nevertheless. Regarding control and governance of energy, for instance, this suite of hairdryers raises issues about consumer objects and appliances having the ability to balance energy cost and demand at the point of use in a distributed network rather than centrally, and what would it entail at regulatory level. These hairdryers also challenge existing models of material ownership that have remained largely the same until recently. Predicated upon smart contracts that allow objects to trade and broker energy deals, the prototypes ask questions about the legal contracts that surround increasingly autonomous products.
Through these three products it’s also possible to question how different economies for the purchase and consumption of energy are explored according to the control that we take away from humans, and give it to products such as ordinary IoT appliances. These prototypes suggest that, in order to tackle behavioural ‘energonomics’ or personal energy habits, the design of levels of autonomy into objects may force consumers to change their habits to get the best use of energy. This could thus increase the mediating role of objects and move them closer to deterministic behavioural patterns. And this would even become more visible if we question environmental benefits of taking control away from consumers, and placing it in the authorship of algorithms that will seek lower environmental impacts of energy use.
Additional Materials for Download
Gigbliss AUTO, BALANCE, PLUS, and their respective text, design, audiovisual, and code elements are made available by the EU Policy Lab of the Joint Research Centre under a EU Public Licence (EUPL), and where not applicable under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0), unless otherwise stated.
You can use, redistribute and/or modify the whole or parts of the available material under these terms “as-is”, as long as you note the licenses and attribute credit (European Commission, Joint Research Centre, lead designers, other contributors). This is without warranty and declared fitness for any particular purpose, and disclaiming liability for any consequences resulting from using, redistributing and/or modifying any of the provided elements in any given circumstances.Flyer Source Files (.ino)