Babbitt column | Blockchain + Energy: A short-lived collision?

I. Industry Overview

In many secondary industry segments, the energy industry is a relatively unique vertical track. The degree of traditionalization is no less than that of mining and construction, but its relationship with blockchain technology. It is closer than many tertiary industries. This is largely because the “bitcoin mining” that introduces blockchain technology into the public's view is a high-energy-consuming industry.

In the eyes of energy practitioners, Bitcoin mines are their important big customers; in the eyes of blockchain practitioners, the price of energy and electricity is a key cost component of Bitcoin mine operations, under this series of factors, When the combination of "blockchain technology + real economy" was put forward, the energy industry, which was considered to be highly closed, became the first batch of water-testers of blockchain technology. The blockchain + energy project has more projects than many frontier "blockchain + service industries".

Specifically, the industrial chain of the energy industry is in line with many people's vague impressions of “energy”. The energy sector is a relatively large industry. In the horizontal and vertical fields, the sub-sectors involved include coal, oil, natural gas, Nuclear energy, water power, waste incineration, etc., while in the vertical industrial chain, including equipment manufacturing, engineering construction, mineral mining, washing and smelting, power generation and transmission, pipeline transportation, etc., the combination of these two dimensions makes the industry of the energy industry The system demonstrates the high level of complexity that many other industries do not have. From the past industry experience, the industry chain of most industries can be displayed with 2D floor plan, while the “industry network” of the energy industry needs a 3D model to be fully presented, and the complexity of the system can be seen.

Figure: Highly complex energy industry structure system

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However, although the energy system is extremely large and highly complex, most of the links in this field share a common characteristic: as a labor-intensive, capital-intensive, resource-intensive, and even technology-intensive industry, the operating entities of the energy industry-related facilities are generally They are all in the hands of relatively large companies, and their business rights will not be over-sinked. For example, of the top 10 of the world's top 500 companies in 2018, six of them are from the energy field, and are often mentioned in the market. Some large enterprises collectively refer to, for example, "three barrels of oil", "five big four small", "two major power grids", all referring to energy companies.

Strictly speaking, in the course of many years of development, the energy industry has not always been in such a state of centralization. In some cases, because of the large number of stakeholders involved, there will be a decentralized pattern. For example, when urbanization is developing at a high speed and energy supply and demand are highly strained, some small and medium-sized energy facilities (such as small power plants) will also get The market allows, but when energy supply and demand gradually balance or even loose, people pay more attention to safety production and ecological environmental protection, many small energy companies or assets will be reorganized by large enterprises or even directly due to safety hazards and environmental protection. Suddenly shut down.

This phenomenon has made the global energy industry appear to be "a long period of centralization and a short period of decentralization." The brand effect is relatively strong. Compared with other industries, it is less difficult to establish a trust relationship with customers. After years of running-in, the communication and trading models between them are relatively mature. On the surface, there does not seem to be a cut-in space for the blockchain.

However, with the development of science and the advancement of society, the energy industry has ushered in an unprecedented opportunity for change in recent decades. The outline of its decentralized economic system has also been looming. Specifically, these factors include:

First, advances in the physical and chemical industries have led to significant developments in new energy industries such as wind power, photovoltaics, and energy storage, as reflected in the significant increase in energy conversion rates and the sharp decline in the price of related equipment. The cost of electricity for new energy sources has fallen to the point where people can afford it. The new energy power generation technology including photovoltaic has an important feature: the entry threshold is very low, and the scale effect is relatively weak. Compared with the large power plants that use thousands of parts, the main body of the photovoltaic power station is only thin. A photovoltaic panel, even non-energy companies and even individuals can smoothly invest, install and build.

Secondly, the rapid development of digital communication technology has to some extent compensated for the shortcomings of new energy “depending on the sky”. The current computer technology can predict the power generation of new energy equipment to a certain extent, and at the same time The fluctuations are automatically adjusted. For example, when the wind and the sun are too strong, and the power supply exceeds the demand, the computer can control the energy storage battery to collect the excess electricity. When the wind stops at sunset and the power supply cannot meet the demand, it will be stored. The power in the battery is automatically released, which in theory makes the new energy power station more stable than traditional energy sources.

It can be said that from the technical side, it is no longer a paper-based idea to let the power-based stable energy supply rights sink and then realize the decentralization of the industry pattern. What is lacking is only from the real economy. On the one hand, fortunately, after 2010, a series of economic and political events have created extremely favorable external conditions for the rise of new energy: in 2011, the Fukushima nuclear power accident broke out and nuclear power was on a global scale. There has been a period of low development; in 2014, the tension between Russia and Europe caused by the geopolitical crisis in Eastern Europe led to a shortage of natural gas supply in Europe; around 2016, the decline in air quality in Asia made people have to try to compress The proportion of coal, oil and thermal power in energy consumption; and the high electricity price in North America is even throughout the downturn of the US economy, making the lives of those with reduced purchasing power worse.

Second, the setback of the decentralized economic system

Stimulated by the above multiple factors, public opinion is increasingly calling for the development of safe, independent, clean and cheap new energy. As one of the ways to efficiently develop new energy, distributed power generation has also entered the field of vision of the energy industry. Under such circumstances, the blockchain positioned in the decentralized economic system trust connector is beginning to spur in the energy industry: in April 2016, the first blockchain-driven power transaction was completed in New York, USA, two Brooks By using the blockchain-based energy trading APP, forest residents completed a power transaction by skipping the grid company's direct docking without knowing each other. For a time, "energy + Internet + blockchain" has become one of the most concerned portfolios in the industry, and the decentralized pattern of energy systems is also the concept of "energy Internet" proposed by the industry in reference to distributed computer systems. It seems to be a goal at your fingertips.

However, the existence of the possibility is not the same as the fact that things will happen. Looking at the energy industry at that time, there are two ideas for developing new energy sources, one is the centralized large base energy; the other is mentioned above. Decentralized distributed energy. Among these two routes, the development model of large-base energy is relatively simple. As long as the original components of the traditional energy system are gradually replaced with new energy, and some adjustments and improvements in power transmission technology can be made, Under the circumstance, distributed energy is more ideal and more revolutionary, but the resistance is correspondingly more: because the past trading mode of the energy industry has always been the unified purchase and marketing, the administrative color is relatively strong, and it has not adapted. The policy and market system of the centralized trading system, therefore, in addition to the technical constraints mentioned above, policy and market rules are also an important constraint, requiring relevant departments of the industry to tailor the decentralized energy economic system. The corresponding framework.

From the later situation, it is precisely the constraints on market rules that hinder the decentralization of energy, leading to the current energy industry failing to achieve the ideal C2C trading model. Unlike information-integrated intermediaries (such as banks) in other industries, the energy-based energy industry is based on the safe operation of its logistics system based on the fact that demand (electric load) and supply (power generation) are basically the same. If there is a large deviation between the two, it will lead to abnormal or even collapse of the power system, directly affecting the economic operation. This rigid requirement for energy-stable logistics determines that energy and power intermediaries such as power grids must assume the role of information integration and power logistics. In this way, for the decentralized energy individual, if the power trading information is not connected through the grid company's matching platform, it is likely that the power logistics service will not be available. This is the obvious difference between the energy industry and other fields.

In this context, when the industry authorities are designing the decentralized energy economic system, it is often impossible to circumvent a centralized intermediary like the power grid. (The grid company belongs to the natural monopoly industry, and often there can only be one in a region. service provider). From the reality, the decentralized energy transaction will have a certain impact on the centralized unified purchase and marketing trading model, which will affect the interests of energy intermediaries. Therefore, in the sinking process of energy supply rights, information matching and The two-in-one energy intermediaries of logistics service functions sometimes show a tendency to maintain a neutral energy trading model. For example, in B2B transactions, energy intermediaries sometimes try to control the initiative of trading rules, and in the case of C2C transactions, The energy intermediary will still maintain the mode of unified purchase and marketing, thus changing the “C2C” mode of energy trading into the actual “C2B”. The above measures have enabled the current energy industry to remain in a more centralized state without presenting In the early years, the industry expected the complete decentralization of the industry supply pattern.

On the other hand, in addition to the influence of the market system, the unsatisfactory part of energy and digital technology has also hindered the sinking of energy supply rights to a certain extent, which has had a certain impact on people's confidence. For example, the thin-film solar equipment that was quite popular in the past few years is designed to break the building power limit and sink to everyone's hands. Although this product shines in the capital market, it is not as popular as crystalline silicon solar panels because of its high cost and low efficiency. It is like the “shared charging pile” that was optimistic about the market two or three years ago. The mode, the essence of which is the C2C decentralization transaction of the charging station, but in the process of implementation, it faces obstacles such as the inconsistent standard of various types of vehicle sockets, the high availability of charging piles, and the inaccurate related APP guidelines. This business did not land at the end.

Under the dual constraints of system and technology, the decentralization process of the energy industry supply pattern has been greatly resisted, and the status of the energy blockchain technology that has sprung up a few years ago has begun to pick up. After all, the necessity of the blockchain to exist many times is based on the existence of the decentralized energy system. In fact, the New York energy blockchain project introduced in the above is not quite smooth, because the project is located. The New York State banned individual power sales and decentralized energy economic systems could not be formed, so this project will not continue. Under such circumstances, although the energy industry is one of the first areas in the economic system to try to combine blockchain technology, due to technical and policy reasons, the development on a global scale is relatively flat.

Figure: LO3's TransActive Grid is the world's first blockchain energy project and the most well-known project of its kind so far.

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From the above combing analysis, the decentralization of the energy industry can only be regarded as an unsuccessful social experiment. On the development path of new energy, the consensus of the leading centralization model has become the mainstream in the industry. The capital market behind the decentralization model is damaging to the investment enthusiasm associated with the energy industry, and no longer believes that the decentralized energy economy can sink to a lower level, so within the expected time The energy industry may no longer have a large-scale decentralization, and the related concept of "energy Internet + blockchain" is difficult to develop at a time.

Third, the entry point of the centralized economic system

However, it should be pointed out that although the interests of the energy industry have not been decentralized, many businesses are now controlled by giant companies, but there are still a series of collaboration costs and trust crises in these industries. Look at:

In energy companies, because energy giants face a large workload and their decision-making power is often concentrated, it will inevitably lead to lower efficiency of decision-making and less feedback to external changes. At the same time, due to the high centralization of the energy industry and the lack of competition among enterprises, the parties lack the subjective motivation to improve efficiency through reform management mode. Even if there is relevant intention, a large number of new rules need to be formulated for this purpose. There is a lack of feasibility in implementation. For example, the “four-in-one” [Note] that is often mentioned in the industry now has a lot of imagination in theory, but in practice, the stakeholders responsible for collecting and distributing are not for many reasons. In the first time, the funds of the partners will be distributed to their hands, which will lead to the problem of delayed cash flow, which will eventually lead to the lack of enthusiasm for participation in the four-in-one.

Outside the energy companies, due to the extensive coverage of some energy giants, and the corresponding service training is difficult to keep up, the services of some of its affiliates are not able to meet people's requirements, and the company's brand is difficult to provide sufficient credit. Platform function. Take the gas station of a large oil company as an example. Because the pre-training of the headquarters is sometimes not enough, and the post-regulation can't follow the example, many gas stations are branded under the brand name of the oil company, but between each other. The service is uneven, and even gas stations in some areas will add cheap alcohol solutions to the oil, which will harm the interests of consumers.

Under such circumstances, blockchain technology is still likely to fall into this industry in an environment where energy decentralized economies are difficult to make. The specific plan is as follows:

First of all, in an energy enterprise, if you want to reduce the feedback time of enterprises by improving the efficiency of decision-making, you need to let the relevant departments of the enterprise let go of the decision-making power of some affairs. For the decision-making level of the enterprise, the more reliable executives are not the employees of the grassroots. It is a smart contract that follows the principle of "code is law", and the trusted operating environment of smart contracts requires a blockchain to create. As a result, an incision was made for the landing of this technology. For example, in 2018, a petrochemical group used the “blockchain + smart contract” technology in the highly complex oil trade, which greatly improved the efficiency of crude oil trading execution and optimized the transaction financing cost by 20% to 30%.

Figure: Smart contracts have a significant impact on accelerating complex processes within large energy companies

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Secondly, outside the energy enterprise, especially for the huge branch business of some C-end users, the weakening of the corporate brand effect makes the service supply in these areas often show a “quasi-decentralized” pattern (after all, even the same Brands and subordinate organizations have different services to each other. That is to say, this field is still similar to the author’s mention of the impact of non-standardization of products and services on blockchain applications. The “non-standardized decentralized economic system”, through the blockchain-based invoice, users can prove their true consumer identity, and then evaluate these terminal service organizations on the relevant trading platform, thereby The quality of service is more accurately quantified, providing a basis for others to choose.

Fourth, the industry summary

From the above analysis, the application of blockchain technology in the energy industry is an interesting process – although the characteristics of this field make the theoretical decentralized economy difficult to get through in this field, but It is because the energy companies have a big package, but their brand effect has been weakened, and eventually they may have to resort to blockchain technology. This combined case gives us a revelation: that is, the object must be reversed – if a brand wants To stand for too many people, it is very likely that they will reduce their credibility because of "flooding". This is a principle we can refer to when looking for a blockchain landing scene.