by Jeff St. John
Power Ledger, an Australian startup that’s seeking to use blockchain technology to create a peer-to-peer renewable energy network, is in the midst of raising tens of millions of dollars in what may be the first “cryptocurrency” fundraising effort in the energy space.
On Sunday, the Perth-based startup launched its first sale, or "initial coin offering" (ICO), of Power Ledger POWR tokens -- units of ownership of the company traded on the Ethereum cryptocurrency network. Within 72 hours, the company sold out of the 100 million POWRs offered in a public presale, in which the price per token was set, for a total of about $17 million.
Power Ledger will be offering another 150 million POWRs on Friday, Sept. 8 in an uncapped public offer, meaning that the tokens’ final price will be determined by the market. It’s “not unreasonable to expect” that this could bring the startup’s virtual funding to between $20 million and $30 million, co-founder and managing director David Martin told Smart Company. That's not as much as the $100 million the company had been predicting last month, but still a significant crowdfunding event.
These POWRs, in turn, are tradable on the Ethereum blockchain, and can also be converted to Sparkz, the currency that Power Ledger has set up for its users to trade electricity. According to Power Ledger’s white paper (PDF), these trades can be set up in different ways, depending on the needs of those employing them -- in the case of its current projects, trading units of self-generated solar power or self-stored battery energy. In this sense, Power Ledger’s new raise has seeded the market for its solar trading concept, just now being rolled out in pilot projects in Australia and New Zealand.
Unlike most of the companies seeking to enable energy trading via blockchain, Power Ledger has the support of some real-world energy retailers. It started with a 15-home trial in Western Australia in fall 2016, and moved to a 500-site project with New Zealand utility Vector in late 2016. This summer, it started its first commercial deployment in a residential development in Fremantle, where it became the first company in Australia to “facilitate electricity trading across the meter and manage settlements without going through an electricity retailer.”
Since then, Power Ledger has signed a technology integration agreement with Indra Australia, and has launched plans to extend its platform to electric-vehicle charging with Western Australian energy provider Synergy. As for its new cryptocurrency funding, “Token sales will be used to rapidly accelerate the company’s expansion, including entry into India and other emerging markets.”
“I personally think Power Ledger has one of the better business models in the energy space since they are actively working with utilities and trying to figure out how they can play in the space under current regulations,” said Colleen Metelitsa, GTM Research analyst. While we’ve seen some accusations of fraud from the world of cryptocurrencies -- China just banned ICOs, and is rumored to be considering a ban on cryptocurrencies more broadly -- Power Ledger has its projects to prove out its concept.
As for the ICO, “I think of it as an unregulated way of raising capital,” she wrote. “You can think of these coins/tokens sort of like stocks, but again without all the SEC rules and with a much lower barrier to entry for the layperson, in that you can easily create an account and buy from your computer.”
Greentech Media CEO Scott Clavenna agreed that this move is more “a novel form of crowdfunding,” and “doesn’t reflect the same level of company maturity that an IPO implies. "This is still very much a startup entering a highly regulated landscape where very few understand the technology or the operational constraints around working in the energy space," he said.
Clavenna also noted the difference between blockchains like Power Ledger’s and the broader world of Bitcoin, “which is really meant to be a global currency replacement. Most ICO coins are meant to be for internal company trades,” with POWR tokens tied to company valuation and Sparkz tied to the U.S. dollar to link to the price of energy.
Blockchain -- essentially a peer-to-peer network for trading units of value in which every participant has a record of every transaction between all parties -- has grown from an obscure concept to a technology attracting real-world money over the past two years.
Last month, Tokyo Electric Power Company invested €3 million ($3.5 million) into German peer-to-peer energy trading platform developer Conjoule, as part of a €4.5 million ($5.3 million) Series A funding round alongside German energy company Innogy SE.
Other startups in the space include Drift, Grid Singularity and Electron. In California, smart EV charging startup eMotorWerks has launched an experimental blockchain platform that will allow EV owners to locate and share each other’s home chargers.