Murkowski Convenes Hearing on Blockchain Technologies

August 21, 2018

Committee Explores Potential Implications for Electricity Demand and Cybersecurity

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s first-ever hearing on blockchain, to explore its energy-related applications and potential impacts on our nation’s energy systems. The committee heard from a panel of expert witnesses, including the author of a blockchain textbook from Princeton, and the president and CEO of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, who is often referred to as one of the true “fathers of the Internet.”

Blockchain stores electronic transactions as blocks that are linked together to form a chain, which is stored in numerous locations simultaneously. Data verification is required, and has generated a new industry of “miners” who are incentivized to verify whether blockchain applications are trustworthy. This has resulted in entire warehouses being set up with computers for miners to verify the data, which has also boosted electricity demand in typically low-cost areas.

“We are delving into a new issue for the committee – whether or not blockchain and related technologies will soon have a transformative impact on energy infrastructure,” Murkowski said. “This type of computer-driven industry needs electricity, and a lot of it. Miners have flocked to places with the cheapest electric rates, but an overnight demand for more power can cause serious stress on a local utility and impact the grid.”

The hearing also examined whether blockchain can boost both consumer engagement and grid efficiency through secure energy transaction platforms, and the potential cybersecurity advantages it offers to help secure energy infrastructure.

In his testimony, Dr. Robert Kahn, president and CEO of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, reflected on what blockchain could mean for the electric grid and energy systems at risk for cyberattacks.

“We had a similar challenge facing us in creating the Internet, where it was not practical to cause every existing network to change,” Kahn said. “I believe the kind of workaround strategy we used in creating the Internet is implementable in the energy grid with only a small amount of help from industry, and (importantly) without requiring significant reworking of their existing industrial control systems.”

Dr. Arvind Narayanan, associate professor of computer science at Princeton University, also spoke to the cybersecurity implications of blockchain.

“Blockchain technology brings potential benefits as well as risks to the cybersecurity of energy systems,” Narayanan said. “It is not essential for achieving the foundational components of digital security, and policy makers should view it as one of several possible technical tools for addressing energy cybersecurity.”

Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. An archived video and testimony from today’s hearing are available on the committee’s website. Click here and here to view Murkowski’s questions for witnesses.