How blockchain could boost solar payback

The latest episode of Afrika GreenCast is available and delves into how blockchain technology could contribute to the sustainable city.

Host Thulani Kuzwayo speaks to mechanical engineer Warren Gray and they demystify blockchain technology and cryptocurrency, and explain how these could have an impact on climate change and sustainability issues.

Gray took part in the Hack4Climate event from Joburg, focused on blockchain and climate change, where people from around the world worked together to try and solve climate change sustainability issues using blockchain technology. It was held in parallel with COP23 in Bonn, Germany at the end of 2017.

During their podcast discussion, Gray notes that there are concerns that the amount of energy used in cryptocurrency mining has become excessive. But he says this also represents an opportunity. During the Hack4Climate event, Gray’s team developed a way of pairing excess solar power (generated by rooftop solar installations at offices and universities for example that generate excess power on weekends when offices are empty) with computing power that is sitting idle, to perform cryptocurrency mining, which can be profitable.

Essentially this could be a way to ‘store’ the excess energy in cryptocurrency, which could ultimately mean a much faster return on investment of the renewable energy system’s capital costs.

“From the perspective of the person owning the panels, they are getting paid at a rate which is slightly more than what they pay for power, when they have excess power. Provided they have the computing capacity on site, which in an office or university building is the case. In this way you are actually allowing someone to store solar or renewable energy in a cryptocurrency,” he says.

The implication of this is that when designing a solar PV system, it doesn’t make sense to try and size it to the maximum load on a weekday. It now makes sense to maximise installation size. This could help pay off the renewable energy installation faster.

“Because its quite lucrative to do [cryptocurrency] mining at the moment, you could potentially pay off a renewable energy plant, if you pair it with mining, (because the intermittent supply of solar, it kind of solves that battery issue), you can actually pay off that solar installation in two years, not five or six, which is what would happen if you were only relying on the energy. So the impact of it, is that it actually makes renewable energy a lot more lucrative,” says Gray.

Click here to listen to the full podcast and hear more on blockchain and smart grids as well as some ideas from the Hack4Climate event which focused on the potential impact of blockchain on energy distribution, deforestation and food security among others.

Warren Gray is from Solid Green, and one of his side projects is the widely used and freely available Sun Hours simulation tool, which allows one to visualise how sunlight interacts with your building, allowing for accurate consideration of sunlight early in the design process of a project.

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