Digital activism is undoubtedly transforming the way we shape society, enabling an alternate method of enacting change by placing political pressure on leaders and other influential groups. The Brooklyn Microgrid is an example of how new types of digital activity are also attempting to change society by giving individuals and groups the opportunity to collaborate and share resources, without intervention from the ‘middle man’.
One such technology, which is paramount in the case of the Brooklyn Microgrid, is the use of blockchain. I had previously only known it for its implementation in Bitcoin, however as a digital media major I was intrigued as to how it may be applied to other sections of society. This decentralised ledger technology enables many people to produce and disseminate information, as well as have a community of users controlling how the record of information is amended and updated, all without control by any single entity.
Briefly, the Brooklyn Microgrid system developed by L03 Energy allows residents to sell renewable energy to each other using secure transactions, without the involvement of a central energy firm. This is revolutionary, as when blockchain is applied to the energy sector, producers have the ability to efficiently connect with investors. L03 Energy has developed Exergy, which they describe as “a permissioned data platform that creates localised energy marketplaces for transacting energy across existing grid infrastructure”. In practice, this sees any prosumers who generate their own renewable energy, effortlessly transact unused resources with consumers in the local marketplace. In turn, blockchain is used to create a local community market for renewable energy, which empowers residents to determine their personal impact on climate and sustainability.
The generation and use of renewable energy has the potential to provide immense environmental benefits, as well as significant challenges in the way energy is disseminated on both a global and a local scale. It is hoped that this particular example may stimulate the prevalence of more renewable energy projects as a whole, in effect assisting greatly with the transition away from traditional carbon-emitting electricity. Rather than necessarily protesting a certain idea, this form of digital activism demonstrates an alternative method of using a new technology to benefit a community and empower the individual. More widely, it may also result in a greater paradigm shift towards a sustainable future.
However this initiative not without its limitations, with the application of blockchain on the energy sector presenting a new set of legal challenges for regulators. When investigating how to oversee the internet, Lawrence Lessig proposed what is known as the “pathetic dot theory” which describes the way an individual’s actions can be influenced by four different means: laws, social norms, market forces and the architecture that shapes both the physical and digital worlds. As De Filippi (2018) argues, this mechanism appears to be disappearing, and instead being replaced by “autonomous code based systems” which function independently from any physical or legal being. As such, it appears that governments could potentially lose the ability to control these blockchain networks and their applications.
The application of blockchain on the energy sector, as witnessed in the example of the Transactive Grid, has enormous potential to empower people and positively impact the environment. Whilst this case study is based in Brooklyn, the technology involved has enormous potential to be implemented globally. However the technology and its application is still so innovative, and hence it is only with time that we will acquire a legal vocabulary and procedure to address issues that may arise in the future.
De Filippi, P 2018, Blockchain and the Law : The Rule of Code, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Karatzogianni, A. 2016, Beyond hashtags: how a new wave of digital activists is changing society, [ONLINE] Available at: https://theconversation.com/beyond-hashtags-how-a-new-wave-of-digital-activists-is-changing-society-57502. [Accessed 11 August 2018].
Renewable Energy World: Patrick Maloney, 2018, Blockchain Could Change Everything for Energy, [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2018/02/blockchain-could-change-everything-for-energy.html. [Accessed 10 August 2018].
Van Kemenade, C, 2018, How the blockchain can create an energy revolution, [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.sustainabilitymatters.net.au/content/energy/article/how-the-blockchain-can-create-an-energy-revolution-1132103540. [Accessed 10 August 2018].