Ian Scott is an InnoEnergy PhD School student from New Zealand enrolled in the MIT Portugal Sustainable Energy Systems Program at Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon.
An introduction to blockchain
As a PhD student it’s easy to get caught up in the all the tiny details of the very specific topic on which you have chosen to focus the next four years of your life. Most of us decided to pursue research out of a curiosity for ideas and dreaming of stimulating conversations over a range of topics with world leading experts. Unfortunately, while this situation is part of the PhD experience it is more the exception rather than the rule. With this fact in mind I jumped at the chance to learn a little about blockchain and how it can be used in the energy sector with the InnoEnergy Online Blockchain course.
When it comes to blockchain I have to admit I was sceptical at first. While crypto currencies have proved to be valuable, this fact seemed removed from the challenges facing the energy sector. However, as I started to learn more, my perception began to change. The course from InnoEnergy provoked this insight, providing a good overview of both the background theory and some of the leading applications in the energy sector. It was enough to open my mind to the possibilities. There is, however, only so much you can take from online videos and online discussions. InnoEnergy then offered something more that made all the difference, a course in Berlin at the ESMT Business School covering blockchain in energy, and the chance to talk with others interested in the area including presenters from a number of energy blockchain start-ups.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Berlin is something of a blockchain hub in Europe. While chatting to one of the presenters fromGrid SingularityI started to see how their model for peer 2 peer electricity trading could be interesting and, potentially, how I could contribute. We arranged to continue talking.
Blockchain in action
This is how a week or two later, with the support of InnoEnergy, I ended up at EventHorizon 2018, the premier energy blockchain industry event in Europe, as part of the Grid Singularity team. Slightly different to your standard academic conference (to say the least) the event was held in an old PowerStation in central Berlin. With an abundance of lights, lasers, and blockchain enthusiasts, EventHorizon was showcasing the leading edge of entrepreneurs pushing blockchain in the energy sector. Wandering around the constant stream of pitching start-ups you could find someone looking to talk on just about anything blockchain you could dream of.
The start-up experience
This was an interesting introduction to my time visiting the start-up Grid Singularity. A week later, I was sitting in an expansive warehouse office in the vibrant neighbourhood of Neukölln, Berlin. Complete with all the trappings from an episode of Silicon Valley, including noise cancelling headphones, luxurious office chairs, and all the freebies you could ask for, it was a world away from my typical daily student existence.
Easily the best part of the next month as a visiting researcher was being part of the friendly and enthusiastic team working hard to push blockchain into the energy sector. While investigating a number of questions important to them, and to my research, I was constantly inspired by new ideas both for research topics or for potential future start-ups.
The hype was contagious and with the abundance of interesting research questions and potential real-world applications, I was regretting the fact I had just confirmed the final direction of my PhD. After months researching interesting areas to pursue, this exposure to people trying to solve real problems was generating potential in my mind daily.
Returning home to the slow and very repetitive daily student life was something of a shock (or whatever the reverse of a shock is). In the days that followed, as my experiences quickly took on the quality of a dream or past life, I came to appreciate the importance of the opportunity provided by InnoEnergy.
In joining this program, you have probably been inspired at some point by the entrepreneurial approach to life. But really experiencing it, in all its excitement and daily challenges, is a whole other level and really re-affirms your commitment to do something real and new with the knowledge you gain during your PhD.
I’m thankful to InnoEnergy for the knowledge, experience, and contacts this opportunity provided. I highly recommend anyone else to jump at the next opportunity InnoEnergy offer.