Solar goes digital: Welcome to the virtual world of SolarCoin

You have probably heard of Bitcoin, a peer-to-peer payment system and digital currency launched in 2009. It’s essentially a currency which allows participants to value, verify and record payments for goods in exchange for “Bitcoins”, which can then be used to buy other goods.

Although it’s early days, a new form of this digital currency has recently arrived called SolarCoin, which aims to specifically value solar energy. The proposals thus far include the ability to (for example) use your existing Bitcoins to buy a solar system or to trade the value of Solar Renewable Energy Certificate’s (which are created when you install solar) against the value of the system.

Solar Renewable Energy Certificates are a US system for valuing the avoided emissions of a solar system and Australia has a similar system called Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) that also creates a certificate for each megawatt (MW) hour of energy produced.

Just whether this new digital currency will take off in solar remains to be seen, but there are already more than 35,000 merchants on the web who accept Bitcoin as currency including some large merchants such as Zynga, Overstock.com and more.

Interestingly, because the economics of solar systems is based on future energy generation, it may be that SolarCoin is an ideal fit. A hypothetical currency or value attached to a hypothetical future energy output. Regulation, checks and balances will be crucial ,but in Australia’s case at least, this has been proven to be manageable with its Renewable Energy Certificates. RECs are essentially the same thing, also being a hypothetical value attributed to something that will happen in the future which is then traded.

In the case of Australia’s Renewable Energy Certificates, the system is overseen by a federal government-appointed Regulator, the Clean Energy Regulator. They establish and maintain the baseline values, annual targets, a value adjustment mechanism, policing and prosecution action. And it works.

Bitcoin has suffered from some pretty major volatility and has been tarnished by its use in the underworld because of its anonymity, but despite this it continue to grow. SolarCoin, like several other iterations of Bitcoin will be an interesting phenomenon to watch.

Top image: SolarCoin logo, via SolarCoin

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Nigel Morris

Nigel is one of the foremost solar energy analysts in Australia, having worked in the industry for over two decades.
Nigel Morris