Last October, a conversation began in the Itron Idea Labs community around blockchain and what Itron might do with it in the energy space. Ideas were plenty, ranging from the interesting to the ridiculous and really began taking shape at our last quarterly Itron Idea Labs meeting in Oakland. A concept evolved from this, and we were asked if we could put a demonstration together for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – a mere three weeks away. 

Being a hacker from the old school, I can’t resist a challenge, and said, “Sure, I think we can do that.”

Now, I have a head full of gray hair in testament to a lifetime of saying things like that, but I had read books! I had developed whole applications before! “How hard can it be?” I asked myself. I was about to find out.

I have a love/hate relationship with open-source software, which is what blockchain is. It’s free, which is always nice, but documentation is sparse, and because of the newness of the technology, changes happen fast. Documentation and tutorials written three months ago often don’t work anymore, and you must find your own way around the issue. I won’t bore you with the details of every pitfall I experienced, but by the time I was finished, I had learned five new programming languages, and we managed to field a serviceable, but not very easy-on-the-eyes demonstration at CES that was very successful.

Today, we have a fully operational private blockchain network consisting of seven application servers and 10 simulated electric meters sending payments and consumption data every five minutes. All of the billing calculations are performed on the meter itself, and the consumption data is permanently stored in the blockchain for use by any application that requires it.

With persistence and teamwork, anything is possible! We were proud to have our work represented on the screens at DistribuTECH 2018, and we’re hard at work on the next evolution, which will be to replace the simulated meters with real OpenWay® Riva meters. We think it’s a great combination, and we’re excited to test the possibilities.

Tim Patterson on Linkedin
Tim Patterson
Tim is an Itron Idea Labs Entrepreneur-in-Residence and a Sr. Program Manager in the Global Services Organization. He has worked in automation and utilities for more than 20 years and holds multiple patents for automated metering products.