Distributed Ledgers and Decentralised Energy in Sub Saharan Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Social and Political Science

Abstract

The global mobile phone industry has emerged as an important partner in achieving the UN's goals of sustainable energy access for all in Sub Saharan Africa. Support for mobile enhanced energy services in the region driven by the Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association (GSMA), which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide. The GSMA has identified distributed ledger technologies as a key area of interest with the potential to transform existing business models for decentralised or off grid energy services in sub Saharan Africa and accelerate access to sustainable energy services. To this end GSMA's Mobile for Development Utilities division is currently seeking to better understand and evaluate the potential impact, applications, use cases, benefits and costs of distributed ledgers for energy service companies and customers, with the goal of leveraging its strategic partnership with the Department for International Development to resource future trials and to catalyse private sector investment.

Working in partnership with the GSMA's Mobile for Development Utilities programme and ElectriCChain, developers of the SolarCoin Blockchain, this 24 month research project brings together a team of electrical and electronic engineers, human-computer interaction specialists, and social anthropologists to explore the potential for distributed ledger technologies to accelerate access to off grid solar energy in Sub-Saharan Africa by delinking current business models from existing mobile money payment infrastructures and third parties, creating new models for incentivising and rewarding the installation of off grid solar, and developing new peer-to-peer business models.

Planned Impact

The project lays out a pathway to impact primarily through its partnership with GSMA's Mobile for Development Utilities and ElectriCChain.

The project's field trials and written outputs will significantly increase the evidence base upon which GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities can evaluate the potential for distributed ledger technologies in the provision of off grid energy services in sub Saharan Africa and beyond, shaping decisions over the distribution of future grants and resources, catalysing new investment in research and development, and bringing new investment to the sector. By demonstrating the feasibility of a blockchain based, peer-to-peer model for energy trading, the potential beneficiaries include both entrepreneurs and existing energy companies as well as communities of people living in energy poverty, without access to affordable sources of clean energy.

Practitioner and knowledge exchange events in East Africa will include representatives from the off grid solar industry, with a view to laying the ground for the dissemination of project outcomes.

As a member of the ElectricChain's online/digital community the projects PI and Co-Is will work to establish a developing world advisory board with a view to bringing new knowledge and insights to bear on current and future projects that are exploring the deployment of distributed ledger technologies for micro-grids in sub Saharan Africa and beyond.

In addition, by combining research on energy systems integration and smart metering in engineering with research on money, mobile payment systems and the 'relational' politics of energy systems in anthropology, sociology, STS and design the project will significantly expand the understanding and engagement of academics with emerging markets for renewable energy across the Global South.
 
Description This project allowed us to elaborate local energy exchanges/transactions in rural Tanzania and examine the nature of trust in relations between off grid energy companies and consumers. Peer to peer modelling and pilot activities that explore the implications for distributed ledger technologies are currently being written up for publication.
Exploitation Route We anticipate that these results will be of interest to a wide group of audiences, including off grid energy companies and policy makers in the sector, as well as those interested in the potential for P2P contracts in smart energy systems.
Sectors Energy

URL http://www.sunblock.dev
 
Description As a result of this research, the SunBlock project trialled a virtual power plant (VPP) prototype system to encourage collective energy saving practices using IoT energy monitor sensors and IoT devices to explore socially negotiated low carbon changes using Smart Contracts.
Sector Energy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services