A weird solar blockchain thing - Rowan Energy

by @edent | # # | 2 comments | Read ~195 times.

I blog about my solar panels - probably a bit too much! Recently, a reader asked me if I'd heard of Rowan Energy's solar payback scheme - so I took a look into it. Here's how it works:

  • Rowan installer a "miner" next to your solar inverter (the big box that turns DC from solar panels into AC for home use).
  • The "miner" monitors how much electricity you produce and reports it back via your home Internet connection.
  • The readings are written onto a blockchain.
  • Rowan pays you 10p per kWh your panels produce.

That seems pretty cool! And would net me about £400 based on last year's readings.

But there are a couple of problems. Upfront cost is one, and the small matter of where the money is coming from is the other.

Let's take the easy one first.

What's in the box?

The units cost £500.

They look like this:

A closer look:

It doesn't take much zooming and enhancing to see that's a Raspberry Pi in a box.

Lots of raspbery pi computers in boxes with extra hardware dongles.

Specifically, it's the eMonPi which are available to buy retail at about £150

OK, so the installation will cost something. And it takes money to run the servers and blockchain it connects to. Perhaps £500 is a bit steep, but not extortionate. And if the payback is guaranteed, then it'll pay for itself in a year and a bit.

So let's get on to the big question. How do they make money? Through a weird mix of Energy Certificates and CryptoCurrency.


Firstly, the "miner" doesn't actually mine anything. It is just an energy monitor and uses about $10 of electricity a year.

Using Blockchain to encourage green energy is not viable due to the incredible amount of energy it takes to mine transactions.Our blockchain is a POA (proof of  authority) blockchain that is  designed to run on ultra lower  powered devices. The devices  are in the home of our supporters  and take only about $10 per year  to power.

That's consistent with running a Pi constantly. It is "decentralised" in the sense that all the devices report what they've individually monitored.

Energy Certificates

The FAQ says:

Renewable Energy Certificates (sometimes called a REC or a ROC) are certificates that prove that the source of your energy are from a renewable source. If you own a large wind farm or solar farm you can be assigned a REC for every 1 MW of energy generated. This has made the certificate market inaccessible to roof top or back yard electricity prosumers. Until Now. We have designed a new kind of energy company that has tokenised and fractionised the energy market. This allows the source of the roof top solar energy to be verified and stored on a blockchain. Allowing our customers to benefit from this untapped market.

So a user can sell their clean energy generation to a polluter as an offset certificate. But for how much?

The price of certificates is set by auction. Recently, they've been selling for £51/certificate. But, power suppliers need 0.471 ROCs per megawatt supplied in the UK.

So a MWh's REC is about £24. Which makes a kWh's REC worth about 2.4p

OK, that's not nothing. On my roof, it'd bring in an extra £100 per year. But Rowan are claiming to pay 10p per kWh. Where's the other 7.6p coming from?

Peer To Peer

Their pitch deck is available. I didn't find it particularly clear, but I think it's saying that users can buy and sell energy with their neighbours using a custom crypto-token:

Get your energy from your peer, not from a “fat” cow who cares more about their shareholders than the Joe next door

You neighbour needs to buy a cryptotoken with real money, and then spend that on buying your electricity. Unless you can offer a better price, or better customer service, than a major energy supplier - I can't see anyone wanting to do that. Especially if the price of crypto varies.

This is a bit confusing

The thing is, I already sell my electricity to my neighbours. As I explained in that blog post, my electricity company pays me 5.5p for every kWh I export. They buy at wholesale cost and sell it to my neighbours at retail prices.

My neighbours don't need to buy from me directly. I don't need any special equipment. There's no double counting.

BlockChain ruins everything.

I get that Blockchain is the latest cool fad. But it really does have a poisonous effect on all tech. There's no reason for this to involve any volatile crypto tokens. Frankly, selling electricity ought to be a cash-in-hand business.

In addition, Rowan's tech seems a bit buggy:

Recently it came to our attention that the Rowan Vault was incorrectly calculating interest for the users utilising it. We have identified the issue and are working to rectify it. Please note in no way does the issue affect the main Rowan Blockchain or the use case for home renewable energy generators.
Press Release regarding the Rowan Vault feature.

Their Discord chat is full of the usual pump-and-dump, HODL, get-rich-quick, trust-the-plan nonsense that invades all crypto discussions.

Milsky says "hope the news are really big because people will lose trust forever."" mylec88 says "Lolol they are delivering so many things Be patient. You will never make it without patience. They are making sure everything is right. Don't be so critical. It's not a good look. And its not an exchange listing that will make or break rowan. Understand this. This project is going places. Patience is easy to learn. Hard to master. Patience will pay off huge here."

Anyone selling at these bottom prices are idiots. Just saying, as a community here we need to come together and hodl like the ADA community and stay committed to this project. Please don’t sell Red candles folks. LFG! Hodl

I invested heavily in the ICO at a ridiculous offering price because you told us that the total supply was 45 million. Now you have inflated the original supply by 11 times  therefore rendered my investment 11 times worthless. How do you intend to compensate me for my loss? And give me one good reason why I shouldn't sue you, report you to the authority or your partners for fraud?

What's going on?

There seems to be a semblance of a sensible plan here. Turning domestic solar into Renewable Energy Certificates could be a good idea. It seems weird that this isn't somehow double-counting the generation, but I guess they've done their due-diligence.

Selling to neighbours definitely feels like double-counting. Solar exporters already get paid an export rate. And, in any case, energy is fungible - so whether my neighbours buy directly from me or not, they're still using green power.

The token stuff is... bizarre. I've tried asking several direct questions about how it works, but there are no straight answers. I think the price is tied to the future cost of REC, but it really isn't clear.

SMETS2 smart meters already record energy export and report that back to the grid via a built-in cellular modem. So I don't understand what the point is of the Raspberry Pi monitor. Additionally SMETS2 are pretty robust and difficult to tamper with. A Pi in a metal box? Not so much!

If this didn't have cryptotoken nonsense in it, I'd say it was a nifty idea. But given all the downright weird stuff going on with it, I think I'll be avoiding it.

2 thoughts on “A weird solar blockchain thing - Rowan Energy

  1. .__No__. says:

    Good write up & agree with all of it. Not sure how their Raspberry Pi box ('miner') actually verifies (in order to generate REC) that the energy is coming from solar. Plug it into the mains & get free crypto?!? Who knows.
    Can almost see the seed of a good idea here. Almost...

  2. Solva says:

    Couple of corrections. The price for the miner is £1000 after the trial price and in his comments the founder says it will be higher later.

    There are also a lot of flags around the crypto side, in particular the project started and sold 45 million tokens, printed another 100 million tokens (allegedly) given to the community and another 400 million tokens they hold.

    As it is all closed source, with an unknown dev team and with no working explorer there is nothing to stop them selling their tokens and doing a rug pull. Which currently would be worth several million USD.

    And it appears the only way the company can make money is to sell their tokens. They are offering money to people for data and saying they are going to use that data to create a product either they aren't registered to sell (recs) or the data can't be used for (carbon offset certificates). Apart from selling the miners (which is why they are so overpriced) and the tokens, they have no source of income.

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