Blockchain vs Climate Change: Buildings and cities

Exploring applications of blockchain technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across buildings and cities.

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Buildings are huge consumers of energy with elaborate lighting and climate control systems in many major cities running 24/7. Creative and efficient building design however can enable the carbon neutrality of buildings, through insulation, solar generation and the use of sustainable materials in construction, relatively easily. The following three ideas cover areas where blockchain can offer value in enabling better building design, confidence in the use of carbon-neutral building materials and integration into the broader environment to tap into city-wide efficiencies.

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Use case 1: Incentivised electricity meter data sharing

Time horizon: Short term

This example is similar to that described in the previous article evaluating DLT’s potential role in reducing GHG emissions in the transport sector. An increasing prevalence of smart electricity meters in buildings is providing greater insights into building electricity consumption at highly frequent time intervals. Typically this data is used solely for billing, and is only shared with the smart meter installer and / or the electricity provider who is often the same party anyway. Redesigning smart meter data flows to be shared / traded using an underlying DLT can empower data producers (buildings and their owners / tenants), allowing them to decide who accesses the data and providing incentives to share with a number of parties across the energy value chain.

Deeper insights into usage can be drawn by generators, city planners, appliance manufacturers and others through provision of a richer dataset. This can be used to design more efficient appliances that use less energy, better route power through networks and respond in real time to power demand fluctuations, reducing generator idle time (as discussed in the article Blockchain vs Climate Change: Electricity). All of these initiatives can contribute to a reduction in GHG emissions in buildings.

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Use case 2: Sustainable building material provenance

Time horizon: Medium term

Choice of building material can have a massive impact on a building’s carbon footprint, both during construction and throughout ongoing operation. But if you’re a construction company running an overly complex supply chain, can you really trust that a specialist sustainable material that you’re buying is exactly what it says it is? Tokenisation of materials at source, followed by tracking through the supply chain can give constructors confidence that specific low carbon materials are what they say they are when they arrive on site by the blockchain allowing them to see the material’s history. By ensuring that these sustainable materials producers are not defrauded somewhere in the chain, overall GHG emissions can be reduced by increasing demand and guaranteeing payment for sustainable materials.

Even though this solution is technically relatively simply, it is a major challenge to get all participants in a supply chain to sign up, hence the medium term outlook. If a clear value proposition can be articulated for every player in the supply chain then this is a viable solution idea.

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Use case 3: Fully integrated smart cities

Time horizon: Long term

Following on from the fully integrated transport network in the previous instalment of this series, blockchain technology can underpin an incentivised data and infrastructure sharing arrangement to drive efficiencies across the use of space in cities and reduce total GHG emissions. For example, streetlight and building mounted cameras could share data with autonomous vehicle operating systems to increase traffic throughput and reduce vehicle idle time; localised weather data from one part of the city could be sent to other locations to optimise building climate control ahead of a front moving through; building mounted solar panels could sell their electricity to bike charging stations on the street outside.

In the current economic model most capitalist societies function in, incentives drive behaviour. A blockchain system could incentivise this sharing of data and infrastructure by facilitating micropayments of a pre-agreed utility token in return for information, power or other useful media to optimise city usage and reduce GHG emissions.

Conclusion

Buildings and cities play integral roles in our lives and the modern economy. They are also the cause of huge amounts of GHG emissions through construction, power usage and suboptimal transport systems. Blockchain can be used to incentivise data sharing both at a building level, with electricity meter data, and at a city level, with infrastructure sensor data, to optimise the use of building and city spaces and reduce GHG emissions caused by waste. DLT can also provide transparency across construction supply chains to ensure that sustainable building materials are properly integrated into new projects and their producers are fairly compensated.

Product manager. Self-titled free thinker. Rat in the race looking for a gap in the fence.

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