Blockchain could be key to Alberta’s collaborative energy future

Blockchain could be key to Alberta’s collaborative energy future

Published on June 23, 2017


Bill Whitelaw

President & CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group


Alberta’s innovation landscape is pretty crowded these days.

Indeed, people and organizations are bumping into each other all over the place. Companies, entrepreneurs, non-profits, post-secondary institutions and governments.

That’s a good thing. A very good thing.

It means that the innovation system is working as it should (to be called a system). Some parts of the system are focused on evolving the oil and gas sector; other elements on diversifying Alberta’s economy. For the most part, there seems to be a binding harmony out there in innovation land.

The next thing “the landscape” needs to figure out is how to make itself work even more effectively; to ensure the momentum building around effective collaboration is sustainable and meaningful. That also means the results of working together can be measured across a variety of socio-economic and policy metrics in near-term time. Thus a key evolutionary question: is there an immediate common theme around which landscape habitués can coalesce and simultaneously be part of something greater while preserving their uniqueness?

Come on down, blockchain.

For most people – even those well advanced in terms of things technological – blockchain remains something of a mystery. Indeed, blockchain’s first movement out of the shadows as a next-generation technology platform was (and is) associated with narratives around the rise of virtual crypto-currencies like Bitcoin. In essence, blockchain’s power in the context of the Internet’s evolution in many ways ties the technology to issues of security and transactional integrity. It’s that. But it’s also much more.

Blockchain’s potential to reshape Canada’s energy sector is bigger than secure transactions. Much bigger. Creatively deployed, blockchain has the potential to positively influence a diverse variety of ways we do the things we do in energy, from the physical and operational dimensions of our extraction and productions processes to the financial and transactional aspects of how a sector runs itself. It can tell us how to make how data more meaningful in real time and to allow freer and more seamless sale of goods and services. It can help more effectively manage major projects and comply more efficiently with regulatory imperatives.

But wait, there’s more!

One aspect of blockchain’s allure has less to do with the technology itself, but more with its ability to constructively compel  important dialogue in an industry that quite frankly, hasn’t been terribly proficient about collaborating within itself, much less beyond itself. In fact, current efforts around collaboration could find themselves accelerating exponentially with a dollop of blockchain thinking in the mix. The societal power of blockchain to positively bring disparate – and even competitive – interests together can’t be overstated, in that the ones and zeroes of particular technologies are often more interesting that what the technologies actually achieve. Blockchain is substantively different in that way.

That’s why everyone who is serious about evolving Canada’s energy sector engine – including the cylinders powered by hydrocarbons – should pay attention to an emerging Alberta-based blockchain consortium that is powered by equal parts passion and technological proficiency. Early consortium “members” are indicative of how serious the opportunity is: the University of Calgary, SAIT, Imaginea Energy, Enmax and IBM are among those stepping up to ensure the idea of blockchain-in-energy doesn’t succumb to flavor-of-the-month thinking.

Consortium members aren’t naive about the challenge is front of them in terms of collaborative learning and then effective (and practical) deployment. What is blockchain today is not blockchain tomorrow. Things move that fast. But within the group there is a collective will to advance the conversation that binds individual interests into collective action.

In innovation vernacular, “disruption” is a common theme; but too often the essence of its meaning in an innovation context is lost on those struggling to understand what exactly innovation means to them. In that sense, disruption can be viewed negatively; as something that unbalances equilibrium. But the real essence of disruption is a positive one and in that sense, blockchain can help give comfort to those uncomfortable with the concept of disruption.

To that end, it’s important to understand what innovation is – and what it isn’t. Innovation’s roots are about renewal and reimagining – not building something putatively “new” in order to cast aspersions on something ostensibly “old”. Innovation is about being iterative – sometimes big iterations and sometimes small – but respecting the fact all things rethought came from somewhere in the first place. In order for an innovation landscape (or system) to be both robust and resilient, it must be predicated on a shared definition of innovation or it will implode, at worst, or simply stagnate at best.

The blockchain consortium has the potential to be that creator of a shared definition – one stretchy enough to accommodate the old, the new and everything and everyone in between.

It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest this is human blockchain in action.



About prosperitysaskatchewan

Consultant on Saskatchewan's natural resources.

Posted on June 26, 2017, in economic impact, miscellaneous, oil. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: