Business Life:World of Good-Global Grid

Renewable energy is one field still in need of concerted investment, with fossil fuels accounting for more than 80 per cent of our global energy consumption. One outfit making efforts toredress this is the Beijing-based Global Energy Interconnection and Cooperation Organisation (GEIDCO),  which aims to build a worldwide electricity system allowing users toaccess clean energy sourced from all corners of the globe.

“Global clean energy resources are currently unevenly distributed and some 85 per cent of them in Asia, Europe and Africa are concentrated on the energy belt [China’s multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road initiative, which plans toconnect Asia, Africa and Europe],” says the project’s spokesperson Zhang Yibin. “GEI will allow UHV lines [ultra-high voltage lines that can transmit large amounts of power over longdistances] tocreate large-scale, long-distance energy transmission as well as improving efficiency and supply.”

The project is fronted by Liu Zhenya, former CEO and president of the State Grid Corporation of China, where he led tests into the world’s first UHV transmission systems. “We have solved the problem of supplying electricity to1.4 billion people,”Liu announced at Harvard Law School lastyear, having used UHV lines tocarry power from western China tothe populous cities on the eastern coast. Today, China has 21 UHV projects that cover some 37,000km, and Liu plans toapply the tech across international borders with this new grid.

As it stands, distributed power is mostly consumed locally, but GEIDCO’s 180,000km grid will span more than 100 countries and give 80 per cent of the world’s population access torenewable energy. “ It is a radical solution for overcoming the world’s energy dilemmas,” says Liu. “Just 7.7 per cent of the Sahara’s solar energy would meet global electricity demand.” Due for completion in 2050, the grid expects toamass around £29trn of investment, driving economic growth by 0.2 per cent and saving global electricity expenditure by £1.4trn.

In the US, New York-based startup LO3 is making use of blockchain technology to allow energy consumers and prosumers–those who generate energy through their own renewable resources – to trade within their communities.

“When our co-founders,who have backgrounds in the energy and carbon spaces, got to talking, they began thinking about how the future of electric might look and realised that as more distributed energy devices take part in the grid, the result would be a marketplace for these devices to buy and sell their

value,”says Scott Kessler, LO3’s director of business development. “Whether that value is to produce, store or use the energy at different times, it would need to be tracked and find counter parties, which led to the idea for LO3 energy.”

Kessler says that the company’s focus today is on expanding the choice that customers have on the electric grid, which has led to an emphasis on local, clean energy. “As we mature and options for energy expand, we can imagine a future where, ten to 15 years down the road,every building has the ability to generate electricity through a source like solar, store it in a battery, and programme when the energy is consumed.”

Blockchain will allow users to trade transparently and securely, using ‘smart contracts’ to automatically create buy and sell orders. “You then have a historical database that all the parties can return to as a shared public ledger,” says Kessler.

The company now has nine projects globally, mostly with energy retailers or distribution utilities. The Brooklyn Microgrid was one of LO3’s first schemes, launched in 2016, through which citizens can buy and sell energy in a simulated marketplace accessed by an app, with the choice of purchasing locally sourced solar, upstate renewable energy or grid energy. Projects in Texas, South Australia and Allgau in Germany have taken shape through partnerships with local service providers, while British provider Centrica plans to trial the technology in Cornwall across some 200 businesses and residences.

There’s a future for developing economies that have yet to implement this sort of infrastructure, too.“If you have an area without electricity, then putting a marketplace on a blockchain has no impact,”says Kessler.“But I think there’s an opportunity to rethink the way these places go about developing their grids, where we adapt the historic generation and transmission models and leapfrog a lot of what has been done in the 20th century.”