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Energy Blockchain Panel Hosted by Power2Peer Draws Crowd to UMass Boston

Energy professionals, blockchain enthusiasts, and market insiders filled the Venture Development Center at UMass Boston on Thursday, where a panel of experts moderated by Dr. Nish Sonwalkar fielded questions on the potential disruption of the energy industry by budding blockchain technologies.

Boston, MA, July 20, 2018 --( Energy professionals, blockchain enthusiasts, and market insiders filled UMass Boston's Venture Development Center on Thursday, July 12, where a panel of experts moderated by Dr. Nish Sonwalkar fielded questions on the potential disruption of the energy industry by budding blockchain technologies.

UMass Boston’s Venture Development Center is an incubator that has housed companies attracting over $693 million in investment, including Power2Peer. After a brief introduction to the space by Founder and Director William Brah, Power2Peer CEO and President Dr. Nishikant Sonwalkar took the stage to present opening remarks and introduce the panel.

Dr. Sonwalkar opened with a brief overview of blockchain and its potential to reshape a wide variety of industries. Its versatility as a secure and decentralized ledger has been quickly adapted to both open source and private platform settings, with applications ranging from financial industry use cases to supply chain tracking. In March, Greentech Media reported that energy blockchain ICOs had raised $324 million between Q2 2017 and Q1 2018.

For the energy sector, blockchain presents a key opportunity to “topple the monopolies held over grid operation and energy distribution by a handful of corporations,” Dr. Sonwalkar said.

“There is a need for disruption of grid infrastructure, which in many parts of the country are over 100 years old,” Sonwalkar added. “And this is something truly disruptive; this is AirBnB and Uber coming to the power industry.”

Sonwalkar then introduced his five panelists, who presented some brief remarks of their own before opening a dialogue guided by a series of questions from the moderator.

Dr. Val Livada, who has been observing and participating in tech, energy, and venture industry trends for four decades, commented that while the future of the grid is hard to predict, distributed energy and blockchain are technologies that clearly have the attention of industry giants.

“If you look at companies like Siemens and Schneider electric, they have more invested in distributed energy now, so it seems like they’re betting big on it,” Livada said.

When asked for her take on the state of blockchain as it applies to energy distribution, market strategist and blockchain expert Christine Ferrusi Ross highlighted the capacity of blockchain to not only provide consensus but protect privacy.

“Some of the challenges with energy involve on the one hand validating the identity of IoT devices, while also obscuring identity data in order to protect privacy and the security of individuals,” Ferrusi Ross explained.

Also speaking on how blockchain technology is well-suited to address problems of the energy sphere was blockchain evangelist Carolyn Reckhow, Head of Operations and Client Services at Casa, Inc.

“The energy industry was really the first thing that captured my imagination about the disruptive potential of blockchain,” Reckhow said. “It’s still very early. It’s going to happen, but timing is a hard thing to predict with innovation. Scaling tools will be essential to helping the blockchain grow: things like state channels, sharding, and development tools that bring more people into the platform.”

Wafik Farag, a management consultant with decades of experience in the energy sector, emphasized the risk inherent in our deteriorating grid infrastructure, pointing to the billions lost as a result of the severe blackout of 2003, which affected most of the northeastern United States.

“I learned how bad and inflexible the grid can be,” Farag said of his experience working with a white house advisory committee at that time. “One of the key goals is to make it more flexible and dynamic.”

As for the ability of blockchain to address issues of grid infrastructure and the proliferation of clean energy, Alan Robertson, Director of Business Development at BlueWave Solar, expressed optimism about the technology. Taken together with automation, Robertson suggested that blockchain could help in expediting the process of constructing solar arrays.

“The hardware more or less exists, the infrastructure more or less exists, but getting all of them to talk to one another and automate the entire process is something that poses a complex challenge,” Robertson said. “One of the biggest hurdles is making things scalable. What has been hard has been to share in the wealth of what is physically possible. What I see in the blockchain is the ability to share that possibility and provide access widely with a digital underlay.”

Regarding the power dynamic between grid operators and consumers, in her concluding remarks on the prospect of decentralization, Christine Ferrusi Ross offered the following nuance: “In practice, we’re not getting rid of the middle man. What’s going to change is that the middle man will have to provide value; they won’t just be a rent seeker. When you’re thinking about decentralization, we can’t eliminate all the intermediaries, but we are going to demand value.”
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Dr. Nishikant Sonwalkar

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