On June 14, United States Patent Application number 15/840724 was published on the US Patent & Trademark Office's Patent Application Full Text and Image Database. Apparently, Walmart Stores Inc. submitted the application for a method and system that would allow Walmart to manage demand on an electrical grid using a publicly distributed ledger.
The Patent's Purpose
The idea is to address inefficient use of energy and thereby reduce costs for consumers. This method would allow customers to purchase a capped total amount of cryptocurrency to purchase units of energy from providers. A metering system would measure the energy consumption of each device, and customers can then allocate energy-use allowances device-by-device. The dates and amounts of energy consumed by grids as well as individual devices would be logged on a distributed ledger.
The Patent's History
The application submission date is listed December 13, 2017, and it was published June 14. It is unclear if, or in what way, the status of the application has changed since its submission six months ago.
Walmart had already submitted a patent application for a blockchain-based solution to energy grid demand in December 2016.
The December 2017 application states that it "claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent No. 62/433968 filed Dec. 14, 2016, entitled 'Managing a Demand on an Electrical Grid Using a Publically [sic] Distributed Transactions Ledger,' the contents of which are incorporated by reference herein in their entirety."
However, it is unclear how much, if at all, 15/840724 differs from the original provisional patent application, which expired December 17, 2017 – within days of the most recent application's submission. (Perhaps Walmart simply wanted to correct the spelling of the invention's title.)
The Potential for Blockchain
There is much potential for blockchain use cases in the utility industry. In May 2017, several energy companies made an international effort to fund the Energy Web Foundation's exploration of blockchain for grid management. This last May, it was announced that Verv, a UK-based startup, is conducting a trial to allow consumers to track energy consumption across devices while allowing peer-to-peer energy trades on a blockchain.