- 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?
They look like this:
— David Duckworth (@DavidDu94682527) April 28, 2021
A closer look:
— David Duckworth (@DavidDu94682527) March 17, 2021
It doesn't take much zooming and enhancing to see that's a Raspberry Pi in a box.
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.
That's consistent with running a Pi constantly. It is "decentralised" in the sense that all the devices report what they've individually monitored.
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:
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.
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.