Tai Zen: St.Clair is the CEO and founder of Live Energy. It’s one of the oldest energy brokerage firms in Texas. Okay, so they paved some of the ways for energy in the energy industry in the deregulation industry.
I work with St.Clair back in 2012. I went to work at his brokerage firm in October of 2012. And what happened during that time was that they were you know they had a very successful energy brokerage firm, they have like I think.
At that time I remember them telling me that they had like a 98%, we took customer retention rate meaning that the only time that the customers ever leave their brokerage firm was when the company went out of business or no longer had to relocate and that’s why they lost him as a client.
When I was there they did an excellent job of customer service they were always taking care of their clients really well. And he would use a crack the whip on us whenever we didn’t take customer calls immediately and take care of them or client.
So when I was there I saw that St.Clair and his business partner Paul. That was running the place, I saw that you know they were making you know really good money there at the energy brokerage firm. And it justs astonished me that they were worried about this Bitcoin magic internet money at that time.
And I was thinking like why are these guys not focusing on their energy brokerage business and their focus more on process these Bitcoin transactions. You know since I was Asian he was asked me hey man you know anybody in Asia that you know can get that see A6 chips
And you know I thought was a joke you know because I was Asian but he was being serious like hey man we need these A6 chips and everything he had these Blueprints. And that’s all you would ever worry about.
Every time we come into the office you know and I’m like are these guys you know and I saw how he deal with his customers there at the energy brokerage firm. So I knew that he was not you know, somebody that was is asking you know like he’s legit. So I said hey you know what maybe they’re onto something here.
And I remember making fun of Paul, your business partner one time about these young. You guys worried about this magic internet money. And I remember Paul saying you know what quit being stupid and go read the Bitcoin white paper.
You know and he goes quit, being angry and go learn what it is before you start talking out you’re but you know and that’s what I did I went and read the white paper and read the summary and I really liked it.
But I couldn’t understand all the math in computer science so I had to send it to my business partner, LeonFu.com. He was a real agent and he knew how to read all that computer code in the math and every day. And he came back and he told when I called him up and said hey I asked hey give me the reasons why this is a scam so that I can go tell St.Clair and Paul.
To leave this stuff alone and instead when I called LeonFu.com he said hey I wouldn’t buy a bunch of Bitcoins what you need to buy some too. You know and I trusted Leon and so that’s how I got into Bitcoins was through St.Clair.
There are things that you ever been to meet people or go to work at places or see things and you like hey why did I do that in my life. It completely off of where I normally do. I’m not in the energy industry and here I am working on an energy brokerage and what the hell am I doing here.
And that I was like you know the best thing that ever happened in my life you know because of that now my family is financially free. Because I learned about Bitcoin to his energy brokerage for him. So everybody please give a warm welcome to St.Clair.
St.Clair: So yeah it was very interesting having ties and employees. Back in the day we always appreciated his entertainment when he came to the office. Back in 2012, I got interested in Bitcoin primarily because I realized the connection the correlation between energy consumption and mining.
Yeah, I may need to get back here. It’s oh I got interested in Bitcoin. Because of the mining aspect. And actually one day I came to the office and Ty told me that he had booked me to speak at the First Bitcoin conference in San Jose. And I didn’t ask ty to do that. He just did that on his own.
I talked I went and spoke about managing energy as a minor. Which was at the time it was still wasn’t a big thing that people were thinking too much about cuz it was pretty profitable and you could mine with pretty high electricity rates.
But I went to San Jose made some interesting connections and I was actually able to source A6. And so we ended up building some Hardware in 2013 and 14. It’s been interesting to ride me. We never back then tie got so interested in Bitcoin that he went full bore and has done that full-time.
Sometimes I think I would have been better served if I had done that too. But I didn’t I stuck with the energy brokerage business. So we’ve for the past 16 years, our primary business is helping commercial and industrial buyers in North America, a little bit in Canada by electricity and natural gas.
So Thai called me and asked me if I could come and just comment about what’s going on with blockchain in the energy space. So what I want to do today is just touch on a few of the topics that you here in a lot of these ICO’s that are coming out.
Mentioned a couple of the use cases and what problems are trying to solve. The energy sector has seen very little innovation of the last hundred years, most electricity grids are still based on massive and centralized power plants. If you look at the electricity grid today compared to 1950. It’s pretty much the same thing not much has changed.
Historically date has been very closely guarded difficult-to-access and it’s very difficult to process and so it’s there’s not been a whole lot of innovation to date. The power players that have built the current system have spent the last hundred years building a system that they can make money with and so trying to change it, it is very difficult.
They’re resistant to change and when you look at any energy market, there’s a handful of players. Texas is just 1 example. They’re not all the same you know if you go from here to Europe to Africa but generally you’re going to have the same players regardless of what market you’re in Texas.
And it’s important just to understand who the players are when you think about projects that have to do with blockchain. Yeah, who are the players they’re trying to disintermediate do you really have the power to do anything. And is it a war that you can win.
Do you got generators those of the parties who actually convert natural gas or coal, and into electricity or run wind farms and solar farms. You got transmission and distribution service providers those are the entities that control the gird they maintain the poles and wires and provide at open access to the participants.
You got Retail Energy providers who provide wholesale supply but they procure wholesale supply from the generators and sell it to retail customers. Reps are the entities that you buy from as a commercial or industrial consumer. The independent system operator which is kind of like the big brother that manages the system in Texas ercot the electric Reliability Council of Texas.
The responsibility for ensuring reliable electricity on the grid. They are basically overseeing hundreds of power plants making sure that there’s enough power scheduled. Today to meet the demands for tomorrow.
They also perform Financial settlements in the competitive wholesale market and responsible for administering the switching of accounts. So when you switch from one retail to another. Legislators make the laws regulators implement the law and regulate market activity and protect consumers in the end-users are the residential and commercial consumers’ electricity.
So does the players in any given market. Set up some of the promises that we see that people are making having to do with blockchain. 1 for example, there’s a company grid Plus. In the first, I mentioned them there I really want to get into mentioning ICO specifically.
I mentioned them because they’re coming to Texas and they’re actually, they just applied for their retail electricity provider license so they’re one of the first companies that are doing really interesting stuff with blockchain. I think probably has a shot at that actually gaining traction in doing something interesting.
The problem or at least one of the problems is trying to solve. For retail electricity providers, credit billing and settlement is expensive and represent a significant portion of the rate. Customers pay and cents wraps extend credit to all of the customers and some of those customers don’t pay this bad debt expense, are passed on to paying the customer in the form of higher rates.
So as a retailer you got a bunch of customers, You know there’s some percentage that isn’t going to pay to pay the bill every month. The retailer basically is paying for the credit and the bad debt and they passed it on to the customers to do pay.
So the solution is to create a rap that limits its services to customers willing to prepay for electricity and automate settlement accounts must be funded with Cryptocurrency in advance settlements are performed in 15-minute intervals and cleared via payment channels.
Elimination of Illinois elimination of bad debt translates into lower rates giving the rap a competitive advantage internet-enabled device acts as a smart gent, that performs procurement without the customer having to understand the underlying technology.
It’s kind of interesting. They’re basically, they’ve applied for a ref(rep) license and one of the first things that they want to do is just go out and get customers. And the offer is that instead of you paying a higher rate because you’re in a pool people that aren’t paying their bill on time. We’re not going to take any of those customers, we are going to take customers that are willing to pre-fund their account and have a smart device in their home.
That makes payments in real-time. So as you consume energy in 15-minute intervals, it clears transactions using the use as a token that they’ve created. They’re still working out some of the details on that but it’s, it makes sense.
And you know it makes sense that if you can essentially disintermediate a credit component in the cost structure you can you can be more competitive. The technology involved, there are blockchain payment channels. I’m not sure how they’re going to solve the issue of having all these transactions cuz they definitely have to happen in real-time.
And if you tried to do something on Theorem or Bitcoin. The processing time is not really going to support their models so they’ve obviously got to have a payment Channel. The solution in there I think they may be used a Raiden Network or something like that.
Stablecoin is part of the mix. Because you can’t really have people funding the smart device with Aetherium and the price goes crazy and then they have trouble paying their bill because they lost value Cryptocurrency smart contracts. And an in-home device said the promise obviously is lower cost through more efficient blockchain in his business model.
To me, this is one that actually does make sense. And this is really just the first part of their business plan Bill actually. A big part of the second phase will be peer-to-peer energy Trading Grid Plus. The challenges still face scalability is going to require success in the implementation of a payment Channel solution that I think that you know they’re still working on that and creating a new class of hardware.
So the device that their they’re developing will actually hold the private keys will sign transactions and make payments that something that customers aren’t used to having. I think that’s probably something that is something a little bit intimidating.
But they seem to be smart enough to do basically have the attitude that they’re not trying to create something where anybody has to know anything about Cryptocurrency or how it works. The promises you’re going to get lower or cheaper electricity. And we take care of the rest, that’s it.
So blockchain promises and improves the Renewable Energy Credit Market. A renewable energy credit is essential. What you get issued when you have a renewable generation asset for every megawatt of electricity that you create as a renewable generation asset you get issued a credit. Those credits are tradable and they can be sold to any counterparty you want.
But the current problem is that when Renewable Energy Credit is created today it’s the result of production data being recorded on site. Where the solar or wind resource is metered in some cases production data is estimated or projected using formulas that can be manipulated.
That data is then submitted to a third-party registrar where data is logged and a certificate is issued. Then a series of intermediaries act as market-makers who take fees for connecting buyers and sellers. Additional validation is often performed each time a new transaction occurs.
So you got these wind farms that are logging data the formulas used to validate that they’re actually producing the energy that they say they are. It’s not totally uniform in any particular Market there’s different technology that she used.
There’s a lot of room for error and manipulation. The solution is to create an open platform where meters right production data directly to a blockchain and issue renewable energy credits to the asset owner of record.
Buyers and sellers could theoretically trade and transact to a blockchain-based REC market as easily as we currently trade many existing tokens. So think like ERC 20 tokens on Ethereum if you got a system where the producers are all right into the same blockchain.
You basically can disintermediate a bunch of players that are involved in the data logging invalidation of the credits. And then create a market where parties can trade the trade without going through an intermediary. Again that makes a lot of sense.
Challenges are creating the liquidity necessary to have a viable Market. It’s going to take time and a lot of money and many of the existing players are not necessarily interested in more transparency or simplified markets.
Because that’s likely to reduce the profitability. If you make things very transparent and very efficient there’s no need for Brokers that are making good money trading RECs right now.
It seems like every I see if every energy-related ICO says they’re going to revolutionize the REC market and that’s just not possible for everybody to do that. But maybe somebody will improved demand response markets. So what is demand response?
It’s paid curtailment of electricity consumption by end-use customers in response to system demand or per the terms of a bilateral agreement with the counterparty demand response is primarily used as a balancing tool by ISO but could also be used by REPs.
So let me just state the problem here. Load growth so the problem, the reason we have demand response is that low growth is outpacing Generation in many markets throughout the world.
There are not enough new big power plants being built to keep up with growing demand. Demand response programs are one of the primary tools that ISOs have at their disposal but they need much more participation.
Currently, price discovery is difficult and most deals are inefficient bilateral trades, tracking performance is costly and inefficient. So, in a market like texts 10 years ago we had pretty significant reserve margins so we had like 20 or 30% in excess capacity throughout the market.
The low growth, we continue to grow every year so we’ve got more consumption. But we don’t have a similar amount of new generation being added to the Texas market.
So the margin we have the reserve margin is shrinking. So the system operators, they’ve got to figure out they’ve either got to create (Maybe they got to create) a market where they incent people to build generation. Or they figure out that use programs like demand-response where instead of being able to call up more physical resources. They can call on a customer to curtail.
Let’s say we got a 100-megawatt plant that goes down in north Texas. The ISO would use a demand response Market to call up a hundred megawatts of the load to turn off. And said there’s a market where it where customers will get paid if they agree to curtail. When they’re called upon because the system needs the capacity.
So the solution here and in basically the way that happens right now. You have it’s a very fragmented market. There’s a there are certain programs that you can bid into their they’re not really easy to navigate as a customer.
So usually you have guys like me who are Brokers, I’m going out there and having to explain to the customer. Here’s how this works, here’s all these different people who will pay you these different amounts according to different formulas for you to participate.
It’s really, it’s not a very efficient market. It’s not really transparent. There’s not a way to go and figure out what am I what is it really worth to me what’s it going to be worth.
So potential solution is an open blockchain-based market that would enable price discovery, increase participation and make trading among Market participants more fishing. A more robust Market should help ISO self-balancing issues increase liquidity should improve efficiency and bring down costs across the market.
And putting performance data on the blockchain will drastically reduce the cost of administering the program. Yeah, the other component that it’s kind of tough is when you get called upon to curtail your load.
The program that calls on you to do that have to go back and validate that you actually did it.So they’ve got it. Got to go back to got to look at your historical usage data and invalidate did they actually curtail when we said they did. Are they allowed to continue in the program?
So there’s definitely a lot of room for performance there and that’s one of those areas where you can. That’s one of those areas where you can, where you know it just makes good sense if you had everybody writing to a public Ledger.
You could easily basically in real-time validate performance. So that makes sense and there’s a handful of companies out there that say that they’re trying to solve this problem. And then the big one did that actually, I think will have the biggest impact and it is the most real like I think it’s definitely going to happen is peer-to-peer energy trading.
The problem distributed energy resources such as solar panels on businesses or homes generate excess capacity. It is currently not monetizable and effectively unusable because there is no mechanism in place to facilitate local trade.
As energy storage systems become economically viable The Economic Opportunity that peer-to-peer trading represents growth significantly. This is the duck curve and what you see here is that that’s the shape, that’s 24 hours in a day.
And where do you see the spike up there this is, right up here. That’s the point where the sun is shining, the brightest in producing the most energy through all the solar panels that are deployed.
So every day in markets like California like Market marks like Texas are that solar penetration is not near what it is in California but in California, it’s like a. It’s a really tough challenge because they’ve got all the solar installed and an hour 18 massive spikes in production.
And that requires the system operator to have to, they said balance that. So for every megawatt of solar, that’s online you’ve also got to have this the same amount of a coal-fired or natural gas-fired generation so you can balance it.
You can’t have the solar just explode and blow up the market. You basically got to have other resources that you can cycle down. And so with peer-to-peer energy Trading, in particular when we get the next, maybe that the next this next generation is the generation after that in terms of batteries when the battery starts becoming economically viable for people to put in their houses.
It’s going to change the game because we can essentially charge the battery instead of all the energy just flowing and creating this massive Spike. That’s really hard to deal with, you could store it in a battery. And then throughout the day, you can have an autonomous agent.
That goes out and decides when it wants to offload that power. You can literally and in fact, that’s like grid plus that’s one of there and that’s what one of their stated goals.
Like many of these projects is to facilitate peer-to-peer energy Trading. There have been some projects like the Brooklyn Brooklyn microgrid where they’ve done some proof of Concepts and validated that.
It works, but you know if you just think about you know. As simple as you know if you if you’ve got a solar panel and you work during the day.But your neighbor doesn’t have a solar panel and you know they’re staying at home doing laundry and running Appliance.
You really don’t need that. Solar in the middle of the day and if you had the ability to sell it to your neighbor. And get a fair market rate for you it would have a huge impact on the electricity grid.
So the solutions to create a blockchain-based platform that combines a distributed Ledger for the purpose of logging data associated with energy production and consumption.
Tokenization of that capacity so that standardized units of energy can be traded and settled through smart contracts. And stable coins will probably be needed to eliminate currency risk.
You got blockchain payment channels Cryptocurrency stable coins, Energy storage via battery in smart contracts.
To facilitate this whole process. Ancestors peer-to-peer energy trading news is kind of like the Holy Grail that you know people feel like when we get there we’re going there so much inefficiency in the electricity grid.
So where we’re kind of on a trajectory will we don’t seem to have enough New Generation coming online. But if we can just create a system where we can more efficiently balance by allowing people to trade with each other. It should go a long way toward solving a problem.
And the other thing that’s important about peer-to-peer energy trading is there’s a way for the current Power Players to make money with it.
Whenever you consider some of these things you know. The idea of creating a system where you’re gonna disintermediate companies have been around for a hundred years.
You know worth many billions of dollars and have a solid grip on the levers of power it’s you know. I don’t know that that’s going to happen but this is the kind of stuff where there’s a lot of ways for people to win that are currently in positions of power.
And then it just, in general, there’s a lot of interesting things that I think will happen as a result of data logging to open blockchains.
The problem currently is it all data associated with energy production and consumption has historically been hidden within data size. Controlled by private entities and governments.
The lack of publicly available data limits Market participants for making smarter decisions and inhibits optimization of energy Market, Asset benchmarking evaluation is difficult.
Dissolution wide-scale adoption of blockchain by industry Consortium energy producers. Energy consumers will create a mass of the more transparent view of the entire energy ecosystem.
And create better business models in the near future. Examples would be large generators voluntarily publishing to public blockchains. Opportunities for both companies and individuals to contribute value.
Disable data while maintaining anonymity already exists energy web foundation, that’s one example of an organization that reports being working in this direction.
And there should be valuable Market enhancing insights that are the byproduct of driven initiatives. That’s to say there’s a handful of projects that are basically out there.
Trying to either tap into what has historically been private data sets that are being published in the income pulling them into public blockchains so that people can do more interesting things with them.
Like for example getting generators to agree to post their products in real-time. So if you have a view of what’s going on in terms of the generation and the network and you got public access to it there are interesting things.
You can do with that information. The data that an individual associated with the consumption of an individual is usually pretty closely guarded but there are people that are working on projects to basically allow.
Individuals to contribute their data so that they can become part of a public dataset so you can make smarter decisions about generating about creating investing in new assets generation assets.
Or creating other programs where you can make the market more efficient in general things to consider when analyzing blockchain-related projects.
I definitely think that there’s like way more shitty energy-related ICOs than ones.
That makes any sense particularly ones that talk about you don’t need him to raise money to build wind farms and all the stuff. There’s no shortage of capital out there to go out and build wind farms and solar farms.
Where is economically viable so like half the ICO’s that I see that talk about energy is talking about this Pie in the Sky. You know the philosophical view of renewable and stuff. And you know just doesn’t make sense.
But there are some Darcy mentioning projects that absolutely makes sense. I think in on any of them you got to consider the user experience.
Basically, will the proposed solution makes the user experience more or less complicated. People will know there are all kinds of ways that I know over the years that I could say people money but if it was one little bit more complicated they weren’t going to do it.
So I think anything that’s more complicated than the current processes is going to be a tough sell. Does the success of the proposed solution require a user to understand the blockchain?
I think that you know there’s a handful of projects that assumes people like want to make your life more complicated in one involve Cryptocurrency.
In a process where it’s, it just makes no sense. Disintermediation obviously you know you got to consider you know where is disintermediation occurring and will the players being disarmed any disintermediated allowed to happen.
In Texas there’s a handful of people that basically control the market and if you’re not in agreement with what you want to do it’s not going to happen period.
Open vs closed models be wary of companies building proprietary systems or Walled Garden. There’s a lot of companies out there or ICO’s that they talked about this fancy stuff they’re going to do with blockchain and whatnot.
And then you get to the end and it says that everything they’re doing proprietary and they’re going to create this closed system and they’re going to monopolize the market which to me that’s totally that makes no sense whatsoever.
In my opinion, the most powerful ideas are those that are likely that are unlocking massive value through open systems.
The systems I think there’s a lot of projects that make complete sense.
And they are basically going to unlock a lot of value because they create open systems and allow people to share data and do things. We couldn’t do it because we didn’t weren’t sharing data and just didn’t have access to do it.
That’s what I have to say today. Hopefully, you learn something about energy.
If anybody has any questions about ties past or anything else, you let me know.
Client: If your a brokerage correct. So if the peer-to-peer Trading, Energy trading is successful does that take you out?
St.Clair: No, because I the thing that I know is that customers that people running as we do only commercial and Industrial.
And to me, I’m interested in it that you know I’m very interested in. That actually, I’d like to see some projects succeed in Texas.
And I know that historically my customers are never going to go out and do that themselves. They’re gonna say hey you know how do we participate and they’re going to come to me.
And I’m going to help him just like I do with their standards transactions. It’s more complicated than just buying the commodity.
So I can’t see them making a decision to go around me. I can see them, you know. That’s just the way it is with come the vast majority of all commercial and Industrial deals are done through a broker. I don’t see it really has an impact on me.
Client: What are your thoughts on power literature have you heard of the time?
St.Clair: I said the one thing I think I don’t understand about them. It feels like they might maybe of the impression that they can build a wall Garden.
I mean to me if that’s you approached it. There’s way less value in creating a walled garden and a proprietary system.
I could be off on that but it just kind of seems from a high-level that maybe the hanging up there trying to take but I could be wrong.
Client: If the current, you know brokers and infrastructure have already set up and the solutions being pitched to solve the on the blockchain.
Why would those businesses for you, for example, you just said that well they wouldn’t do, that they would just go to me the broker?
Why would, what would be the benefits of using blockchain for the business this is in the industry. Because you said, it’s controlled by a very few handfuls.
So would they even let them because it’s their grid, they own it, right?
St.Clair: Well the grid is not the grid is basically it’s a public utility. So they’re like in Texas, we have open access to anybody that wants access to the grid has access.
You have to let anybody who wants to become a retailer, come and set up shop. Get a license you can sell power on the grid.
You can buy from wholesalers you can build customers for it you can make your margins. So the grid is always going to be a public utility.
It’s kind of having a like a development tool kit you know that’s the foundational layer everybody can come into Texas. Because it’s a deregulated market and build any business model they want.
With me and you can have an agreement to structure the contract. Buy electricity or sell your capacity or demand response to anything that I and you decide we want to do.
We can do it in Texas and we can clear up to the grid. Which is why Texas is a pretty interesting market for projects to happen.
Client: So, once you put a billing and metering system into the household, the concept that the household has money is an interesting extension
So do you see other applications of that household money from a utility perspective? (Yes, then power)
St.Clair: Yeah for sure so like if you’re successful in getting a piece of Hardware in the home.
That has some wireless capability and is attached to to an iPhone app for example and has the ability to sign transactions and make payments.
You can apply it to energy but you can fight anything else that. You’re paying for as a service provider from a third-party.
Client: How do you think about the openness of those of that device as far as third parties other services.
St.Clair: Well, I know that with respect to the two grid plusses device they’ve got some pretty advanced thinking in terms of using multi-sig and protect.
Because basically what they don’t want is for customers to have to understand what public and the private key is and to have to worry about managing it.
You know risk losing funds. I’m not, I don’t know exactly how to solve that problem but I know that there’s I know that they put a lot of thought into having a process with multi-sig where it’s two or three and you got.
The basic got ways to protect the protected device so even if you took the device just like if you stole a ledger Nano.
It would be difficult for you to actually extract the public keys in and steal from the device. That answers your question.
Tai Zen: Anyone else any more questions.
Tai Zen: Everybody gives St.Clair hand guys.