Chubu Electric Power Co. has developed a mobile payment app for virtual currencies, and has started testing it in-house with employees using it to purchase coffee.

The company aims to make use of the ease with which individuals can make transactions using the app to develop a system where individuals can easily sell and purchase excess energy generated on their solar panels at home, although it remains to be seen whether this latest digital technology will promote effective use of renewable energy.

For the experiment, the power utility has issued “Cafe Ene Coin” — its own virtual currency — to be used on the mobile app. One coin is worth ¥1 and the money can be used to buy coffee in the office.

A group of 30 employees began the experiment at the company’s headquarters at the end of last year.

To complete the transaction, employees simply have to use their smartphone to read a QR code printed on the menu page.

It is also easy for them to trade the virtual currency among themselves, and they can charge up on coins using a credit card.

“Unlike bank transactions, we can send money quickly and there is no transfer charge,” said Yutaro Tomoto, 32, a member of the Information Systems Department, which developed the app.

Usage information, such as the number of cups of coffee purchased, is shared among users through blockchains (distributed ledger), which is a basic component of virtual currencies.

The data is not managed centrally in a single server so it is difficult for people to hack in and alter the data history, thus ensuring transactions are managed correctly.

Going forward, the company plans to look at whether the blockchain technology developed through the experiment can be applied to create an energy transaction system for individuals.

The government started a feed-in-tariff scheme in 2009 for electric utilities to purchase energy generated from solar power generators at a higher price than the market rate.

Contracts for initial users will end from 2019 onward, which has given rise to a “2019 problem” whereby a large number of households will no longer be able to sell their electricity at the current high rate.

Chubu Electric hopes to create new business opportunities by providing a solution.

The company is making use of the strength of virtual currencies, which allow individuals to make transactions easily. This way, households with excess energy can sell it to other households or companies.

If individuals start trading energy among themselves the amount of energy sold by Chubu Electric will drop, but they hope to compensate for this by getting customers to use their blockchain technology.

Chubu Electric is also planning on using the blockchain for other purposes, such as managing their company’s finances and storing facility inspection records.

This system does not require a server to centrally manage high volumes of data, so the company could in the future be able to reduce the amount spent on data centers as well.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Feb. 24.

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