Currently, some of the most prominent research is focused on how DLT can be used to track transactions in an electrical microgrid. A microgrid is a localised, physical network of electricity distribution between both electricity consumers and producers. If one resident on a microgrid has a surplus of electricity, generated by solar panels on a warm sunny day for instance, that resident can then sell the surplus energy through the microgrid. Smart metering is used to track the number of electricity units produced and used by each network user and DLT is used to track the transactions between network users. The solution is simple yet effective and trials are already successfully underway in both London and the US.
The potential of transactions across a localised microgrid and across a larger network of microgrids is huge. Taken to its natural conclusion, it will be possible to buy renewable electricity collected on the other side of the world in the Sahara or the Australian outback at a very cheap, almost negligible cost. This idea of worldwide freely accessible energy accessed through smart devices is becoming known as the Internet of Energy.
The language of smart – the internet of things
A loose definition of the Internet of Things (IoT) could be groups of smart devices that are able to interact with one another. In the future the language that these devices use to talk to one another is likely to be based on DLT. A DLT called IOTA has been conceived and developed to enable feeless microtransactions between machines with no human interaction . The IOTA platform, as well as many other DLT, can automatically execute a small program or application following a transaction of data. These programs, built on top of a simple digital transaction, are known as Smart Contracts.
Imagine a Building Management System (BMS) that utilises a DLT such as IOTA whereby all enabled devices within the building can communicate with one another autonomously. The information contained within this network will be highly sensitive and therefore valuable – it can reveal a great deal about the condition of the building. However, in this scenario the real power of the DLT is the executable nature of the Smart Contract whereby the BMS could order in, and pay for, replacement parts without the need for human intervention.
The implications of this machine-to-machine interaction are widespread and quite dramatic. The job of a maintenance engineer is likely to face important changes as items and assets become almost self-diagnosing when faced with issues and problems.
Many aspects of the built environment involve direct interaction with a supply chain. In most cases a supply chain is the backbone of any service and a smooth transition between transactions is incredibly important to an efficient process. With the growing popularity of such concepts as the circular economy where value is given to information about the source and previous life of a material, an accurate and secure digital ledger that can track this data would be an invaluable tool to provide greater transparency and allow users to review the entire distribution process.
The technology is already being utilised, in conjunction with wireless scanning technologies such as QR codes or RFID chips, to track foodstuffs from their origin to a supermarket shelf. The French supermarket giant Carrefour tracks free range chickens, raised without antibiotic treatment, from the northern region of France to its supermarket shelves . It uses a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag that contains data about the chicken’s date of birth, packing date and more. The technology assures consumers that the foodstuff is ethically sourced, sustainable and fairly treated for the duration of its life, a major advantage in today’s world of conservation and compassion.
Applying this technology to the built environment will allow companies to ensure the carbon footprint of future buildings and will feed into concepts such as Buildings as Materials Stores (BAMS) and the circular economy as a whole.