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Pebbles: The Blockchain-Powered Energy Trading App

Image coutesy: Seimens

You might have not heard of Wildpoldsried before. But it is high time you do. This tiny German village, wonderfully hidden by the Allgäu hills, is recognized for the great strides it has taken to adopting renewable energy sources and reduce its carbon footprint. Wildpoldsried utilizes a mixture of almost all the leading renewable energy sources, consisting of wind power, hydropower, biomass, and solar panels on all municipal buildings and about half of the residential rooftops.

Thus, it is no surprise that Siemens chose Wildpoldsried to carry out its research project “Pebbles”. Pebbles is an acronym, standing for ‘peer-to-peer energy trading based on blockchains’. It is a joint research project involving the University of Applied Sciences at Kempten, the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology (FIT), grid operator AllgäuNetz, the regional utility entity Allgäuer Überlandwerk (AUW), and Siemens. The project is being funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The research project, which was launched in March 2018, aims to study the technology needed for local energy trading and explore how it would benefit grid operators and utility companies. Currently, energy management devices the size of a router, have been installed in prosumers’ homes to analyze their energy consumption levels. The term ‘prosumers’ refers to the fact that the participants of this project are acting as both producers and consumers of the energy being produced here.

On 22 October 2020, the project entered an important phase when the energy trading app rolled out, and the few participating prosumers were able to start trading. Two virtual profiles were added to the app to enhance the user experience. The app works by allowing its users to enter their preferred trading price for their home-generated electricity, and in return, allow them to choose the type and origin of electricity that they would like to receive. The blockchain part of Pebbles ensures that the data always remains secure.

Guido Eberle, one of the participating prosumers in this project, explains the inspiring story behind Wildpoldsried’s journey towards renewable energy. “It all started 20 years ago,” he says, referring to the year 1997 when the residents of the village started a series of renewable energy-generating projects. Today, Wildpoldsried has not only managed to run 100% on renewable energy sources, but it is also generating seven times more electricity than required.

The Pebbles project is also attracting high-profile participants. One of them is Deputy Mayor of the village, Günter Mögele. Excited to start trading the electricity he generates through multiple sources, he strongly believes in the future of the local energy supply. He says that the satisfaction of using energy generated by one’s neighbors will be greater than using power from nuclear or coal power plants from the North Rhine-Westphalia province.

Stefan Jessenberger, the Siemens project initiator for the Pebbles project, explains that peer-to-peer trading is only half of the project’s story. He further goes on to say that the project is about optimizing grid stability and avoiding congestion in the grid network by using the available flexibility in supply, storage, and demand.

Though the project is not yet completed, Jessenberger points to the added value it creates to all stakeholders, as one of its greatest achievements. The automation of energy trading means that grid operators will have less manual work, and bottlenecks in the grid can be easily prevented. By offering a digital trading platform for all electricity producers and consumers, regional utilities can come up with a new business model and greatly benefit from it. In turn, prosumers will be able to better market their green, high-quality energy.

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