Perth-based blockchain energy trading start-up Power Ledger and a municipal utility in Silicon Valley are working on a solution to one of renewable energy’s toughest problems by charging electric cars during daytime hours.
As solar power grows, power system operators around the world – including the Australian Energy Market Operator – are grappling with the sharp falls and surges in grid demand that occur when the sun comes up and goes down each day.
Known as the “duck curve”, the rollercoaster in grid demand places huge strains on traditional centralised grids, as on-demand energy sources such as coal, gas and hydro power are pushed out of the market in the morning and required to “ramp up” sharply in the later afternoon and evening.
Power Ledger has a deal with Silicon Valley Power, owned by the City of Santa Clara, to use its energy trading blockchain platform to track solar energy from solar farms to electric vehicle (EV) charging points in a multi-storey municipal parking facility to validate “Low Carbon Fuel Standard” credits created under a state scheme to encourage a shift from fossil fuels.
Don’t charge up at 6pm
Takeup of EVs is expected to accelerate as more charging stations are installed, but you don’t want the growing number of EV owners coming home at 6pm and plugging their electric cars in because that is only going to exacerbate the duck curve, Power Ledger chief executive Dave Martin said.
“If you can get people to charge their electric vehicles during the day you start to fill in the belly of the duck curve,” Mr Martin said.
If a use for the surplus solar power can’t be found during the afternoon, it is wasted and in some markets such as Japan utilities are asking households to curtail their solar panels to cope.
The deal with the City of Santa Clara is an early return on a partnership signed in February this year with Clean Energy Blockchain Network (formerly known as Helpanswers), a non-profit founded by former US Department of Energy and IBM executive Mark Johnson to accelerate the spread of clean energy in the US.
California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) scheme requires fossil fuel refiners and importers to acquire and surrender a set level of LCFS credits to lower their emissions footprint. But the scheme is too “administratively heavy” and cumbersome for ordinary vehicle owners to exploit, and is mainly used by large fleet owners.
Use blockchain to widen access
Power Ledger plans to use its blockchain energy platform, based on the “distributed ledger” technology that underpins the Bitcoin and Ethereum cryptocurencies, to digitially streamline the tracking and recording of LCFS credits and lower its costs so that community and individual EV owners can benefit, Mr Martin said.
At the same time, you could give people an incentive to take up EVs without anyone having to pay a direct subsidy, he said.
Under a separate deal with Kansai Electric Power Co in Japan, Power Ledger is trialling a virtual power station in about 10 households in Osaka, charging household batteries from surplus solar power during the day and discharging it when the sun goes down to ease the ramping challenge for grid generators.
The company, which raised $34 million in Australia’s first homegrown “initial coin offering” last October and has ridden the ups and downs of the Bitcoin and Ethereum markets since then, has signed a series of small-scale deals with utilities, tech firms and governments to build microgrids in India, peer-to-peer trading of renewable energy in Bangkok, and trial roll-outs in Auckland and Fremantle.