A Hack to Make Solar Energy More Available

Spark founder Jon Ruth wants to build a marketplace for buying renewable energy certificates on the blockchain as a way to subsidize small producers of solar energy.

AccessTimeIconOct 14, 2022 at 2:40 p.m. UTC
Updated Apr 9, 2024 at 11:31 p.m. UTC
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Spark began a year and a half ago with a clear goal: to accelerate the deployment of solar plants around the world. How to accomplish this wasn’t quite clear, however. After a few pivots, Spark’s founder Jon Ruth is now focused on building a marketplace for all parties to buy renewable energy certificates on the blockchain as a way to subsidize small producers of solar energy.

“Certain small power producers don’t have access to traditional markets for these certificates,” said Ruth. “We thought it would be interesting to look at building a tool to connect to small solar power producers, monitor their activity and mint.”

Spark is a finalist in CoinDesk's Web3athon. The winners are announced at the I.D.E.A.S. conference October 18 and 19.

Spark focuses on areas where solar is expensive and small producers struggle. A small producer in the solar world has an output of fewer than 500 kilowatts. Ruth is focused on producers of around 10 kilowatts.

Ruth comes to this project, which is part of CoinDesk’s 2022 Web3athon, with a background in solar energy and renewables, having built large-scale solar power plants for the last decade. In 2021, his research led him to think about solar energy applications in blockchain technology.“ There was enough of a toolbox of tools [in blockchain] to wonder what we can build with this stuff instead of more crap tokens,” he said. “If that’s all we’re going to do with it, then what’s the point?” If the invention of blockchain technology did not have real world applications other than “numbers go up,” Ruth said he would consider it a failure.

He furthered his research and started to ask questions: “If we give permission to make money, what does it mean to make money backed by solar energy? What does it mean to have currencies where value is in the great things happening in the world?”

In his nearly two decades as an environmentalist, “no movement that has tried to push the government to do things has made a meaningful difference,” Ruth said.

Because government is not the answer, Ruth feels strongly that people and private enterprise have to come up with the solutions on their own. The clock is ticking, he said, and humans may have just a decade to make a meaningful impact to slow or reverse climate change. “Earth is in trouble. Humanity is in trouble if we don’t solve these problems.”

Aside from a couple of advisers, Spark is a one-man show right now. But one of his advisers is Tricia Wang, co-founder of Crypto Research and Design Lab, or CRADL, a consultancy focused on personal data, blockchain and crypto and blockchain accessibility. (Ed. note: Wang is the designer of the Web3athon, but did not advise Ruth on his project nor judge the competition. She will be presenting the Web3athon awards.)

Ruth’s goal for the Web3athon was to build a tool to monitor electricity generated from solar energy projects and provide the project owners with a way to create renewable-energy certificates that are saved on the Filecoin blockchain.

The Web3athon has been a heavy lift, technologically. Ruth is not a developer himself but after some late nights with his technical adviser – Harper Reed, CEO of enterprise developer General Galactic Corp. – who made recommendations for no-code tools, Ruth built everything that Spark submitted in this application.

The Web3athon was designed to welcome non-technical organizations. “Honestly, the Web3athon is the first hackathon I've felt welcome to as a non-developer,” said Ruth, who added that the kickoff conversations with all the participants were about the impact these projects would make, not the technical codes.

His key takeaway is that he now has the confidence to turn an idea into a working prototype. That said, the work on Spark’s proof of concept became more challenging once the project became a finalist. “I will need tech help in the future,” said Ruth.


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Jeanhee Kim

Jeanhee Kim was CoinDesk's senior editor for lists, rankings and special projects.

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