Do consumers want more than transactions?
In New Zealand, it is our electricity retailers that help us when our power has gone out or if there’s a problem with our billing. They also manage all the commercial arrangements, including credit management, and are required to comply with consumer protection regulations, including those for medically dependent or vulnerable consumers. It is easy to get hung up on the idea of frictionless transactions and self-determination, though if it is not the retailer managing these services, then who? You are probably not going to get them from your peers.
That is not to say the retailers are the only ones that can provide them, but a change would probably have a material impact on other industry participants, especially network companies. The network companies would likely find themselves dealing with a much broader range of contractual parties, on a broader range of issues. Perhaps the blockchain, extended beyond retail transactions and linked to other data sources and tools, could also support and simplify these services?
Now is a good time to be having this conversation
The complexity of our market transactions will continue to increase and be compounded by the physics of electricity supply and the physical infrastructure that makes it happen. Consumers will expect and demand to play a greater role, either directly or through agents acting in their interest.
Blockchain has plenty of merits, but we need to be clear on the problem we are trying to solve before we anoint it as the chosen way. That decision will probably need to be made at a collective level, as this seems unlikely to be a decision made by market forces alone.
It can’t do everything for consumers. There are a range of other services that they need, often on an ad hoc basis. Today many of these are provided by retailers, and the challenge will be to demonstrate that this remains the best approach into the future.
Ultimately I think this is going to end up being resolved through the regulatory framework – there is too much at stake for consumers for it to be done any other way.