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On sustainable energy through blockchain and self-organising systems

In 2014, From Bitcoin
to Burning Man and Beyond explored the re-invention of money and a utopian
vision of a self-governing, self-editing and self-learning society. John
Clippinger, who co-edited the book, wrote one chapter on the importance of

“Through the use of data asset exchanges where individuals and groups could make markets using their data assets, a new business model for web content and services would be possible,” Clippinger (left) wrote. “Imagine a world where people got fair value for their data and would be in charge of how they would be approached by vendors and third parties… it would unlock new sources of innovation and greater service efficiencies by making the management of market and security risk based upon more accurate and complete data analytics.”

This ideal would however require a total shift in how systems worked today. “None of this would be possible, however, if individuals were not self-sovereign and in charge of their own identities and personal data,” the essay added. “If other parties, governments or corporations, are in charge… then the old dictum of quis custodiet ipsos custodes [watching the watchmen] would assert itself once again.”

Clippinger, a well-respected futurist, advisor and MIT research scientist, has spent the vast majority of his career fascinated by self-organising systems and designing them to address key societal issues. He has been a member of the World Economic Forum Global Advisory Council and continues to speak on the future of blockchain and its potential.

The transition to
sustainable energy

One of his current ventures within the energy sector is , a startup which aims to, in the company’s words, ‘act as a decentralised authority to translate sustainability actions into carbon-reduction rewards.’ The Swytch token was created by the Token Commons Foundation, of which Clippinger is also a founder.

“I think what is underreported and not understood is the rate at which we’re transitioning to more sustainable energy generation”

“One of the things that’s come out of that which I think is
very germane is we were really interested in creating an alternative, having a
verifiable REC [renewable energy certificate],” he tells The Block .  “The way RECs work for carbon credits is
they’re very arbitrary and very localised. If you can do verification on the
provenance and production of sustainable energy, then you can generate a REC
with a real provable value.”

Swytch offers a potential plethora of use cases, from
automated data collection and verification, to gauging energy efficiency
through plugging its ever-growing network into proprietary data sets. The
overall consensus, however, is to use blockchain technology to “empower
everyone – governments, cities, corporations, NGOs and individuals – to take a
more active role in accelerating the adoption of renewable supply and
sustainability programs.”

This approach sounds markedly similar to Clippinger’s vision
from five years before – and he notes the progress the company has made. “We
have enterprise clients now,” he says. “I think what is underreported and not
understood is the rate at which we’re transitioning to more sustainable energy
generation. The cost of solar and battery is coming down on an exponential
basis, and currently it’s really cheaper to do solar than it is fossil.

“You’re even getting more traditional companies, oil
companies, they’re saying ‘uh-oh, we need to make a transition, we don’t want
to have stranded assets,’’” Clippinger adds. “[They] see this transition. How
do they make that transition, and how do they verify assets that they’re
sustainable, and more efficiently manage their grids?

“There’s a movement towards creating private virtual grids,
enterprise grids and managing those. There’s a lot of rethinking about how to
manage IoT assets and energy grids.”

As the company explains, the first half of 2018 was focused
on proving the concept, with the second half focusing on scale. This year is
focused on momentum, while 2020 and beyond is headlined simply as ‘changing the
world.’ “We’ve gone through the crypto winter, and so the question is can you
really deploy a service and a technology at scale, engage customers, and create
value from that?” says Clippinger. “It’s not just a small proof of concept.
We’re at a critical juncture as how to make that transition.”

5G and a
self-organising network

One emerging technology that Clippinger is interested in outside of this context is 5G. Its self-organising network (SON) capability fits in to the vision of autonomy in deployment and optimisation. 5G is often cited alongside blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) as complementary; one oft-cited path is that 5G will provide the speed to help generate greater insights (AI) on huge numbers of devices (IoT) which will need to be tamper-proof (blockchain).

“The value of crypto – something highly scalable, verifiable and programmable – is here to stay and that changes everything”

For Clippinger, it is the network which is particularly
exciting. “You’re going to have to have it self-deploying, self-optimising,
self-healing – you’re forced to deal with this because of the number of devices
there,” he says. “That’s going to set protocols that other services are going
to have to plug in to. If you cannot verify the security or the reputation of
an asset then you need to quarantine it and turn it off – all of these things
need to be worked out at enormous scale.”

The one thing all these technologies definitely have in
common is their propensity to be overhyped. Anyone who attended MWC Barcelona
last month would have heard all kinds of discussions around 5G but
comparatively little to show for it. In the same way, many companies will describe
their product as AI-enabled when it is anything but.

Going beyond the hype
for blockchain

Blockchain has certainly had its moments – type ‘blockchain
or database’ into a search engine to give some idea of this – but the optimists
believe the light at the end of the crypto winter tunnel is that only the
serious players will be left in the game. It is a view with which Clippinger

“It’s a baby and the bathwater problem,” he explains. “I
think the issues that consumed so much conversation in the crypto and
blockchain world in 2016, 2017, 2018 – proof of work, proof of stake, all these
very heated discussions I think are going to go away, and I think that you’re
going to evolve new kinds of architectures and new kinds of players.

“The money is not going to be speculative money – it’s going
to be institutional money that’s going to drive this,” he adds. “It doesn’t
necessarily mean the banks are going to assume the hegemony again because I
think there’s something inherent in the architecture that goes against the
business model – but I think that you’re going to have this transition.

“If you suddenly see the top 100 cryptocurrencies collapse in value it doesn’t mean that the whole idea of cryptocurrency is flawed; it’s moving into another phase,” adds Clippinger. “The value of crypto – something that’s highly scalable, verifiable and is programmable – is here to stay. That changes everything.”

John Clippinger is
speaking at Blockchain Expo Global
in London on April 25-26. You can find out more about his session here.
The post John Clippinger: On sustainable energy through blockchain and self-organising systems appeared first on The Block .

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