The clock has finally ticked on over to another year. Time waits for nothing or no one, as the old saying goes, and that adage certain includes blockchain technology. Once the last crumbs of festive food have been blown off laptops everywhere, the task of doing creative things with decentralized ledger technology (DLT) rumbles into life again.
We recently published the first installment of a three-parter piece about ten European blockchain use cases that you might have missed. This article presents another four European blockchain use cases that you probably never heard of.
A citizen-centric European Internet
The words European and agreement rarely, if ever, appear together in a sentence. Europe is a kaleidoscopic conglomerate of deep cultural and nationalistic roots that go way back in time. Because of this idiosyncratic framework, finding common ground is exceedingly difficult. The recent Brexit event is a perfect example of this. Europe-wide internet access is another. The dreaded roaming charges have given many a nasty shock shortly after returning from holidays abroad. Following years of blatant exploitation of customers, European regulators drew up the Roaming Regulation (EU) 531/2012 to curtail such abuse. In December 2016, EU Member States voted to eliminate roaming charges altogether by June 2017. This led to the termination of all roaming charges within the European Economic Area (EEC) on June 15th of that year. But even after this landmark moment, the regulation only applies to certain countries. Switzerland, Monaco, Andorra, and San Marino are exempt, and roaming charges still apply there.
These anomalies are symptomatic of a lack of harmony in terms of economic and legal issues. But where diplomatic wrangling might fail, or at least stretch into years of to-and-fro, blockchain might just prevail in a much shorter timeframe.
Behind the scenes, the European Union has been working to lay down the blockchain foundations for a European Internet system. The goal? The creation of a decentralized, provider-independent, citizen-centric, continent-wide internet access network.
The idea makes perfect sense. The current system is heavily tilted in favor of communications providers, which hold the purse strings, own the infrastructure, handle the users’ data, have final say on who can use it, how, and for how long. Simply put, it’s provider-centric, and has been so for a very long time.
Blockchain upends such status quo and enables a new paradigm by pushing power towards the users instead, enabling a citizen-centric to internet access. Issues such as sovereign identity come into play here, and though it will be a few years before such a framework becomes operational, the EU is moving in the direction of decentralizing internet access and empowering citizens to be in control of it.
The world teems with ideas for new products, projects, initiatives, etc. Would-be entrepreneurs can be found in every corner of the internet. A handful of these ideas of projects might be viable, and even a smaller percentage might become a reality. The main problem that entrepreneurs, inventors, and people with good ideas face is lack of funding. Because of this millions of potentially viable products or ideas never see the light of day beyond someone’s living room.
To address this issue, platforms like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and many others proliferated during the early- and mid-2010s. These platforms were not free from controversy, and in the end, they all have one fundamental flaw: Centralization. The platforms’ executive teams hold the power to decide which projects are allowed to be funded, and which are not, for example. How this decision-making process works, and which projects are greenlighted is far from transparent, which puts the creator or driver of that project/idea at a disadvantage.
The advent of blockchain-enabled decentralized crowdfunding. The use of distributed technology immediately gives transparency to the entire process, because of the nature of blockchain. Not only that, lower transaction fees (Kickstarter takes five percent of all funds raised, for example, plus wire transfer fees, credit card fees, and so on) through the use of smart contracts, and the removal of the ‘middle man’ creates a decentralized crowdfunding environment which favors the creator, rather than the agency controlling the entire process.
Blockchain for energy: Smart metering
The world as we know it requires an immense amount of energy to work. Think about it: the electricity we use every day, the petrol or diesel to power our cars and home heating systems, jet fuel for the airline industry, the energy needs of civilization are staggering. On average, every single person on the planet consumes 58 kWh per day. Smart energy management is a key consideration for any Government.
The emergence of blockchain technology, and its potential applications for energy management, is a hot topic. Once again, we run into the issue of centralization. For decades, energy supply has been in the hands of state, or semi-state agencies that have exerted quasi-monopolistic control over the industry. Because of this lack of competition and/or regulatory oversight, energy costs have been kept artificially high.
One of blockchain technology’s new use cases in the energy industry is smart metering. Currently, many energy suppliers charge customers on a consumption estimation basis. In other words, the energy provider estimates the average use and charges accordingly. This scattershot fee system is inefficient for two main reasons: Some customers might be unfairly charged, and energy consumption is not accurately measured, which could lead to wastage of precious resources.
Smart metering works by fitting blockchain-enabled meters to accurately track energy produced and consumed. Equipped with digital identifiers, individual meters offer a far more accurate and verifiable picture of how much energy is actually consumed (and should be charged for), which creates a far more efficient process.
Tracking the origin of renewable energy through blockchain
The use of distributed technology in the energy industry is not just restricted to smart meters. Another use case for blockchain that you’ve probably never heard of is the determination of energy provenance. The idea is to use blockchain technology to give energy a certificate of origin. The certificates per se are not new, of course, they have been used for decades. What is new however is the usage of distributed technology to digitally certify that a kWh of electricity for example was indeed generated from renewable energy sources. Blockchain’s digital identifiers are immutable and easily traceable, so the end customer is assured that they’re using sustainable resources.
Discovering new use cases for blockchain demonstrates the versatility, validity, and applicability of distributed ledger technology going forward. More and more blockchain companies, blockchain consultancy agencies, and blockchain services come online regularly. In the European market, the blockchain framework (Blockchain Europe, if you will) is thriving, with blockchain service provider Europechain leading the way. Europechain’s Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) business model enables rapid deployment of blockchain services for clients intent on discovering the power of this nascent technology.