The Stack Archive News Article

Can blockchain save IoT from itself?

Thu 2 Jun 2016

This week I was invited to join an event hosted by Chain of Things (CoT) – a group concerned with the lack of security in the IoT space. Set up by a team of technologists, IoT manufacturers and a FinTech lawyer, the consortium’s impetus is to attempt to match the lofty scaling of IoT with a solid security grounding, using qualities of blockchain as a key layer in this ambition.

CoT has adopted a practical strategy; looking at establishing open industry standards, involvement and partnerships with concrete hacking and developer initiatives and organising global events and demonstrations to put existing technologies through their paces.

Wednesday’s gathering showcased CoT’s first full industrial case study – a solar energy stack designed to use blockchain technology to provide reliable and verifiable renewable data – speeding up incentive settlements and reducing opportunities for fraud.

The kit comprised of a 9-watt solar panel connected to a charge controller, a battery pack, and a collection of light-weight retro-fitted monitoring devices including a data logger, a Bitseed node, and a sensor. The equipment has been designed specifically for use in developing countries and those looking for a fast and low-cost system to record generated solar energy in real-time.

In CoT’s words, the system is designed to facilitate ‘the process in which a solar panel connects to a ‘data logger’, tracks the amount of solar energy produced, securely delivers that data to a node, then records it on a distributed ledger which is synced across a broader global network of nodes.’ This particular case study proposed to assess the way in which the original data owner can view the data, how various permissions could be enabled for third party access and how smart contracts could be realised.

While the system is relatively secure and robust, Luke Johnson, co-founder of solar energy monitoring tool ElectriCChain which uses rewards-based SolarCoin and other blockchain technologies, spoke on the potential security threats. First he considered analogue hacking through which attackers could replicate a solar energy data source, writing their own scripts to falsify data in return for SolarCoins.

Further malicious action could include monitor duplication, with hackers logging multiples of their real energy recordings. Johnson explained that this vector has been quashed somewhat as all monitors and equipment must now be registered with the relevant affiliates to reap the rewards.

Another challenge for Johnson and his team is overcoming the bureaucratic blocks in the SolarCoin network. Before a commercial roll out, he noted the importance of working to improve the efficiency of data flow, cutting out administration and tightening financing structures to achieve immediate settlement. 

Johnson argued that this need to guarantee a high-level of efficiency and security would also be crucial in respect to further innovation efforts. He pointed to the huge potential of add-on apps which among other uses could track transactional history and energy trading. The expert also highlighted the future of democratised energy, where such systems could allow people to take control of their energy provision independent of utility providers – as in the case of the Ethereum-based TransActive Grid project in New York.

Having digested the previous, teams of developers were then set to work on ways to improve, modify and further secure the solar case study. Pitches ranged from tokenising carbon credits and creating alternate financing systems to smart batteries and securing against data logger hacks.

The winning group presented a mechanism for maximising revenue in emerging markets through the demonstration of provenance. This model would identify usage and distinguish different sources of value, providing integrity for those investing across a central ‘exchange’ framework linked to the respective carbon market. An interesting concept which could help attribute value to the renewable scene whether for philanthropic groups or corporate/industrial investors.

Not yet a viable product, the solar stack is set for production within the next six months to a year with prospective application in villages and small community set-ups, as well as large industrial solar plants. The project has already received strong interest from major players, scientific bodies, research groups, and government agencies such as NASA. Japanese parties have also expressed particular enthusiasm, explained Johnson, following the recent passing of government legislation which mandates that all new solar power generation be monitored.


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