Making the Swytch to Sustainability 0 12815

You might think a US President installing solar panels on the White House would signal a sea of change in renewable energy, but with Jimmy Carter’s loss in the 1980 election, the panels came down and haven’t been up since. It’s puzzling that an industry that has the potential to save the planet isn’t thriving, even after decades of development. Especially when one considers how much the technology has improved, with renewables set to be cheaper than fossil fuels in a few scant years.

The reasons behind this are numerous. Many governments remain suspicious of the technology, no doubt thanks to strident lobbying by the fossil fuel industry. When governments have taken action, as with the US under President Obama, the results fell short of admittedly lofty expectations. And the country’s CO2 emissions are set to increase 1 percent in 2018 after a brief period of decline.

However, even the most effective government in the world would find it hard to push the planet into a greener tomorrow. Governments only hold sway over the land within their borders, and even if a major player like China enacted sweeping reforms, it would do little to change matters in the rest of the world. Blockchain technology is uniquely poised to organize global governmental efforts, thanks to its inherent data security and decentralization.

“The main purpose of blockchain in governance, at least in its current guise, is data integrity,” says Jon Martindale in Digital Trends’ “Blockchain Beyond Bitcoin” series released this week. “If more government entities can rely on the integrity of data from partner agencies, then sharing information should make many facets of government more efficient, while also improving security,” Martindale continues.

If we’re going to see a fundamental shift in world energy production, a system that transcends local governments by democratizing data and adding efficiencies offers a significant step forward.

“It turns out that much of the world agrees that we need a reduction of carbon – that’s what cities, countries, and corporations like Microsoft want to achieve. But it’s a very tough objective function for the world to solve for, because if you think of the incentive structure – it’s local – it can’t be traded across geography, so it’s inefficient and temporal,” says Evan Caron, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Swytch, a blockchain platform that verifies and rewards the production of sustainable and renewable energy.

How Green is Our Valley?

Swytch solves one of the most significant factors in lagging renewable energy adoption – the lack of a global and easily tradable incentive mechanism.

The solution is four-fold. First, Swytch collects data from renewable energy producers using existing smart meter technology. This data is ‘stamped’ onto Swytch’s blockchain, then verified and evaluated by a collection of open-source algorithms. Once the algorithms determine the amount of clean energy produced (and by extension the amount of carbon displaced) a corresponding amount of crypto-tokens are minted and delivered to the energy producer.

The tokens are ERC20 compliant and can be converted into fiat currency, other cryptocurrencies, or invested into other renewable projects. In a way, Swytch is the opposite of Bitcoin. Instead of using proof of work, which generates an obscene amount of CO2, Swytch uses proof of production, rewarding reductions in carbon emissions.

The incentive model is scalable, too – everyone from homeowners with solar panels on their roofs to heavy industry leaders able to take part. Entire cities are on board, including six in South Korea, as well as parts of Austria and Germany.

Data is Power

Another issue plaguing renewables is the lack of comprehensive, trustworthy data. It’s currently difficult to gauge where the most energy is being produced and what types of energy is most efficient.

Swytch is seeking to change that through its data collection feature. Every bit of information gathered from energy producers will be made publicly available in order to provide a shared, objective system that anyone can learn from.

As Evan notes, “Anyone in the power business realizes that the more good data there is, the better the whole system is. The data that’s out there is not that great – it comes in slow increments. What we’re betting on is that people want to share the data and if they’re getting compensated for it, they want to do it even more.”

While Swytch’s data aggregation techniques have the potential to revolutionize how information is gathered and shared in the renewable energy market, it’s the platform’s ground-up incentivizing structure that has the most disruptive potential. Through tokenization and the blockchain, Swytch can do what others have not – transcend borders, local politics, and the lingering power of oil and gas conglomerates to bring the world closer to 100 percent sustainable energy.

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T.J. Mulqueen (PMP, MBA, CCP) is a mechanical engineer by trade, working as a commissioning professional for the built environment. With a focus on optimizing building function and performance, and an interest in green energy initiatives, T.J. is also a science and technology communicator. His writing has been featured in Huffington Post and Thrive Global.

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Bitcoin Uses As Much Energy As Austria, Could Add 2°C to Earth’s Atmosphere 3 278

Bitcoin mining, it turns out, damages the earth more than more traditional environmental assaults like actual mineral mining.

According to a paper published Monday in Nature Sustainability, the power-hungry Bitcoin mining process consumes more than triple the amount of energy needed to mine the equivalent amount of gold, more than quadruple what’s needed for copper, and more than double what it takes to mine platinum.

Other coins didn’t fare much better. By their measurements, Ethereum and Litecoin consume 7 megajoules of electricity to produce the equivalent of $1, the same energy expenditure as copper mining but more than that of platinum or gold. Monero eats up 14 megajoules to produce $1.

Naturally, these measurements refer to the notoriously variable dollar valuations of such tokens. “While the market prices of the coins are quite volatile,” write researchers Max J. Krause and Thabet Tolaymat, “the network hashrates for three of the four cryptocurrencies have trended consistently upward, suggesting that energy requirements will continue to increase.”

Bitcoin’s Growing Electricity Bill is Bigger Than Some Countries

We’ve long known that Bitcoin is unsustainable. In a 2015 article for Motherboard, Christopher Malmo pointed out that a single Bitcoin transaction used 5,033 times as much energy as a Visa swipe, and could power 1.5 American homes for a day.

The electricity used to crunch Bitcoin code—and its environmental cost—has been growing with its increasing popularity. Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index shows Bitcoin currently consuming 73.12 terawatt hours (or 263.232 billion megajoules) of electricity annually. To put that in context, it’s comparable to the amount of energy it takes to power Austria for a year.

That means there are 175ish countries on earth using less energy than Bitcoin (to say nothing of crypto on the whole), while 66 countries consume less energy per capita than one Bitcoin transaction (it takes 94 thousand kilowatt hours of electricity to mine a single Bitcoin).

Iceland, a major hub of Bitcoin mining farms, spends nearly as much energy on Bitcoin as it does powering its residential homes. In this case, the damage is mitigated because most of Iceland’s power comes from renewable energy.

Canada’s Bitcoin emissions are also on the lower end due to renewable energy sources. They’re using this to court mining companies from China, where mining emissions are about four times that of Canada’s. Montreal International attracts foreign investment by calling Quebec the land of “green bitcoin”. This has caught the eye of some Chinese mining companies looking to go overseas as the Chinese government has discouraged expansion and shut down some mining operations altogether.

Depending on Bitcoin’s growth, some have projected that it could use as much energy as the entire world by 2020.

Digital Currency Has a Real Carbon Footprint

Krause’s and Tolaymat’s research reminds us of the sobering reality that all this invisible wealth has real world costs.

For the 30 months they measured between January 2016 and June 2018, they estimate their four featured tokens collectively belched out at least 3 million tons of CO2 emissions, possibly as much as 15 million tons.

These findings follow another study, published last month, which determined Bitcoin alone could add two degrees Celcius to global warming within the next three decades. That’s enough to raise ocean acidity by 29 percent.

Solving Bitcoin’s Energy Consumption Crisis

So what is the solution? If the world were to switch to 100 percent renewable energy overnight, the problem would be moot. But we can’t hold our breath for that. There could be ways of incentivizing clean energy so greener mines reap more coins, or of implementing clean energy in other ways.

It’s also possible to adopt less computationally intensive mining algorithms so the mining computers don’t guzzle as much juice. This would disappoint a lot of old school Bitcoiners who have invested in hardware, but their feelings don’t really outweigh that 2 degrees celcius that everyone will have to live with (or die by).

Whatever the best solution turns out to be, something needs to change soon. Bitcoin is growing up, and it’s time for it to mature into something more sustainable.

Kenya Looks to Blockchain for Affordable Housing Project 1 168

The “Silicon Savannah” is moving deeper in direction of tech. The Kenyan government has announced a plan to manage the property allocation and funding of 500,000 affordable housing units with blockchain technology.

The units, which the government aims to build by 2022, will be set aside for households with an annual income below 100,000 Kenyan Shillings, about $990 USD. The World Bank estimates Kenya’s gross national income per capita at $1,290, according to Business Daily.

Blockchain will help ensure that the affordable housing is in fact going to those who fall below the average income bracket. Land title fraud has caused problems for Kenyans, as land grabbers target homes and even schools for illegal sales and development. Blockchain’s ability to store verifiable proof of title could help safeguard against fraudsters.

“Kenya will use blockchain technology to ensure the rightful owners live in government funded housing projects,” said Principal Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Charles Hinga, speaking with the World Bank on Monday.

Hinga said the plan will be financed by the National Housing Fund, which will raise over $59.5 million per month to get the project underway. But Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development James Macharia said it will take $31.7 billion to build a million homes, each of which will cost between $3,000 and $30,000. Macharia called for support from private sector financing.

Under the financing plan, working Kenyans will contribute 1.5 percent of their salary, which will be matched by their employers. “On affordable housing one should not spend more than 30% of their disposable income for housing,” Hinga tweeted yesterday. “Anything above 30% is not affordable.”

A Trustless Relationship Between People and Government

The initiative represents a considerable push to solve housing and title problems for the nation’s lower income families. But how will the government decide to whom the housing units will go? With so much talk about financing underway, people are already calling on the government to outline a plan for how they’ll distribute the affordable housing units.

The government will need to deliver the housing projects in a time when, Hinga acknowledges, the public is skeptical. Earlier this year $78 million went missing in a corruption scandal involving the National Youth Services. Where there is little trust between the people and their government, Kenya hopes to establish transparency through the blockchain’s distributed ledger system.

Kenya’s Move Toward Tech

In March, Kenya’s Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology appointed a blockchain taskforce to explore the ways the nation could use blockchain technology in the public and private sectors. They called it the Distributed Ledgers and Artificial Intelligence taskforce, and by September its chairman, Bitange Ndemo, was calling on the government to tokenize the economy.

Ndemo also proposed government implementation of blockchain to certify the authenticity of retail goods, so consumers can be sure of where their food is coming from, for example.

Governor of Kenya’s central bank Patrick Njoroge has also voiced support for the use of blockchain technology to strengthen service delivery, although he’s opposed the use of tokens and digital currencies.

But the affordable housing initiative could be the Kenyan government’s first real world implementation of the blockchain.

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