An Interview with Sam Hartnett, Rocky Mountain Institute


For years, I’ve been daydreaming about a future where neighbors can easily buy or sell excess clean power (or renewable energy credits) with each other. Well-suited properties could get paid to install and sell lots of renewables, and others could share in the value of these energy assets at competitive market prices. Wala, we achieve decarbonized communities faster! Only in the last couple years did I realize that this prospect had a name – Transactive Energy – and its already happening in few places (see Brooklyn, Moorpark, CA the Netherlands). It turns out blockchain is the disruptive technology behind the platforms enabling these “peer-to-peer” energy transactions. So when I had the chance at the VERGE Hawaii Clean Energy Summit to meet Sam Hartnett, an expert in blockchain for energy at the Rocky Mountain Institute, I made sure get some time with him (hear our full interview embedded above).

Why Blockchain? Why now?

Blockchain technology may be here at just the right time in energy history for us earthlings. We have the technology to access to carbon-free, renewable, storable and even affordable sources of energy, and most consumers would prefer to use it over fossil fuels. How exciting! However, we also have institutionalized distribution systems run by a relatively small number of utility bureaucracies that, to varying degrees (and even for some good reasons), are hard-wired to transition slowly despite the ticking climate clock.

Enter blockchain. If you have even just one computer geek friend who likes to brag about their Bitcoin earnings, you’ve heard of it. Blockchains are basically a new way to compute information to record and validate transactions, without a centralized authority or gatekeeper. Some folks believe that it can disrupt the energy industry in the same way cryptocurrency may threaten big banks.

Sam Hartnett presenting on market evolution towards decentralization at the VERGE Clean Energy Summit in Hawaii

Decentralization and Democratization for Energy Markets

Sam explains that markets, from ice to music to energy, inevitably trend toward decentralization (and away from mass production) thanks to technology and infrastructure innovations. Recently those innovations include computers, software and the internet, which can facilitate a high volume of transactions quickly. The end result, Sam suggests, is democratization, meaning that users gain more control over how they participate in certain markets.

From carbon or renewable energy credit certification to electric vehicle charging, the mind can boggle when trying to apply block chain possibilities to the complexities of energy systems. Sam calls these possibilities “use cases,” and the non-profit he’s working with (Energy Web Foundation) is pushing forward many of them alongside private affiliates all over the world.

More Insights for Local Sustainability Professionals

There’s more. Much more. If you’re like me, and are passionate about the type of next-generation solutions that can be transformational, replicable and scalable for communities, let Sam Hartnett break down everything community leaders and policy-makers need to know about the promising world of blockchain for energy, including reasons to temper your expectations. Check out the interview embedded at the top of this blog to hear our full conversation. Trust me, it will blow your mind.

I want to thank Sam for taking a break from his fascinating sessions at the VERGE Hawaii clean energy summit to answer my questions. (To hear more about what I learned from the experts and change-makers at VERGE, check out my recent blog).

I can’t wait to hear your reactions. Please comment below and let us know if you think blockchain can disrupt your local energy system. What barriers need to be removed for your community to enjoy the benefits of decentralized, decarbonized and democratized energy?

Finally, Prosper Sustainably is collaborating with local and tribal governments, technology partners and leading experts to help communities pilot Transactive Energy using blockchain technology. If you’re interested in exploring opportunities for your community, give us a call!



As Prosper Sustainably continues to hit the streets in various communities, our goal is to continue sharing strategies, ideas and insights with those of you working to help hometowns prosper, sustainably. We invite you to join us us on Facebook, Youtube, and Linkedin. If you know colleagues that would appreciate a dose of inspiration, we would appreciate if you would share this with them!


Written by Angie Hacker, Vice President and Senior Consultant, Prosper Sustainably

I’m Angie. I’m a mom and sustainability consultant. I love communities and have been serving them for nearly 20 years, implementing solutions that protect the places that people call home. My family and I are now exploring communities around the world, meeting hometown heroes and thought leaders, and we are convinced. Solutions exist. In data, in technology, in policy, in plans, in projects, and in programs. They are all a part of the tale future generations will tell about how we chose a thriving future. Let’s find them together. Let’s move faster and smarter. Let’s prosper, sustainably.

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