Japanese Electric Power Company Partners With Bank, University on Blockchain Research

A four-way partnership between major Japanese companies will conduct research into the possible use of blockchain in distributed electricity supply, a press release announced Monday, Oct. 15.

Kansai Electric Power Co. (Kepco) will work with Mitsubishi UFJ Bank, IT service management company Nihon Unisys, and the University of Tokyo on the project, which looks at allowing solar power suppliers to sell excess energy to consumers.

“Due to the widespread use of renewable energy such as solar power generation, the current power supply system has been changing from a conventional large-scale intensive type to a self-sustained distributed type, and in the future, with electric power consumers there is a possibility that electricity will be directly traded […] through a dedicated platform,” the release forecasts.

The news marks the latest trial of blockchain in electricity supply, with various schemes currently underway worldwide.

In Spain, in a project of a different kind — a 300 megawatt cryptocurrency mining farm — will use solar power and in the future sell energy directly to users without intermediaries, its owners claimed in June.

For the Japanese study, the release continues that Nihon Unisys will develop the system, while Kansai Electric will “construct and demonstrate the demonstration system at the same experiment center and the University of Tokyo will evaluate and summarize the research.” Mitsubishi UFJ Bank’s role will be to give advice on the application of blockchain to settlement and transactions.

The partnership is not the first to involve the country’s utilities heavyweights and blockchain tech. In March, Japan’s third-largest energy provider — the Chubu Electric Power Company — announced it would work with Internet of Things (IoT) startup Nayuta Inc and software company Infoteria to explore blockchain’s use in tracking electric vehicle charging.

Russian Startup to Create Blockchain-Based Copyright Network in Uzbek Capital

A Russian intellectual property startup has signed a memorandum with officials from Uzbek capital Tashkent to integrate blockchain for use in copyright, Russian state news agency TASS reports Tuesday, Oct. 16.

The president of the Russian National Intellectual Property Transactions Coordination Center (IPChain), Andrey Krichevsky, met the head of Tashkent’s department of innovations Jasur Zakhidov during the Open Innovations Forum in Moscow. Both parties agreed to implement decentralized solutions to protect copyrights in different areas, such as intellectual property and patent records.

Zakhidov further explained that blockchain could help develop the whole copyright sphere and make it profitable, noting that “scientists, inventors and creators do not usually understand how to monetize their intellectual property,” and adding:

“Our partnership […] will likely give an impetus to the development of intellectual property area in Uzbekistan. From now on they are going to know that the copyright actually works and is profitable. As a capital, we have to help authors and to show them ways to earn money.”

As per IPChain’s press release, the program will start with digitizing Tashkent’s patent records, likely deploying the IPchain ecosystem on the basis of the local patent office.

As Cointelegraph reported in April, IPChain signed a deal to digitize patent records and create a blockchain-based database for the State Patent Office of Kyrgyzstan. According to the head of IPchain, similar projects have already been discussed with Armenian officials as well.

Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev has recently taken several important steps to promote blockchain technology in the country. In July, he signed a document called “On measures for digital economics development in the Republic of Uzbekistan,” which stated that a blockchain integration program for international clearing facilities as well as lending and trade finance should be introduced by 2020.

In September, Mirziyoyev ordered the establishment of a state blockchain development fund called the “Digital Trust.” According to the plan, decentralized solutions would be implemented in healthcare, education, and cultural areas.

How a Bitcoin Exchange Is Surviving a Central Bank Crackdown in India

Indian regulators’ clampdown on cryptocurrency businesses is forcing the exchange startup Unocoin to experiment with stablecoins and ATMs to continue receiving fiat deposits from customers.

Unocoin co-founder Sunny Ray told CoinDesk his company hasn’t been able to transact through regular banking channels with its 1.3 million customers for several months, after the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) banned banks from working with crypto or crypto companies in April.

Most recently, Unocoin set up an ATM in a Bangalore mall where customers can deposit rupees to their exchange accounts without a bank or credit card. In the coming weeks, Unocoin will open a few more ATMs in Mumbai and Delhi.

“We’re essentially employing bank-grade ATM machines,” Ray said.

Also, some users are quickly transferring their rupees to the ethereum-based TrueUSD token, which Unocoin began supporting in August, then using it to purchase bitcoin or other assets down the line when the price feels right. As a so-called stablecoin, TrueUSD is designed to maintain parity with the U.S. dollar.

For customers outside Bangalore, support for stablecoins may provide an indirect way to add or hold value in their Unocoin accounts without quite as much volatility, albeit it falls short of a fiat on-ramp. However, that transaction volume is still less than a few thousand TUSD per day.

“We never even considered that [stablecoins] before,” Ray said. “That’s more just like a stop-gap solution. It’s not like an actual, final solution to everything.”

As Unocoin investigates how to scale compliant ATMs, Ray said the team is also looking to expand to Malta and Canada, in case operating in India becomes impossible altogether, all while exploring the options for listing several new stablecoins.

Stepping back, an ongoing legal battle to overturn or alter this ban hasn’t yielded any results to date. Meanwhile, the ban is having a disastrous impact on India’s crypto community, with the popular exchange startup Zebpay abruptly shutting down late last month.

As Kashif Raza, a co-founder of Crypto Kanoon, an Indian regulatory news startup, told CoinDesk:

“The crypto community is suffering from this ban as there have been instances where the bank accounts of individuals have been closed who were found to be dealing in cryptocurrencies.”

The crackdown has been so severe that Raza said it has created a misconception in India that bitcoin itself is outlawed, even though the ban only applies to entities governed by RBI.

“From a regulatory perspective there hasn’t been any real clarity,” Ray said. “We as a company are working on a couple of solutions.”

Silver lining

None of this should imply that Indian crypto startups are now operating in a black market. To the contrary, Raza said exchange accounts can sometimes require more know-your-customer (KYC) paperwork than opening a new Indian bank account. Many see the ban as an inconvenient pause, not a death knell.

“Given the fact that the Indian government seems to be in favor of the technology behind virtual currencies, the crypto community is quite hopeful that [banking crypto companies] will be regulated in future,” Raza said.

Plus, Unocoin’s ATMs allow for regulation-conscious investors like Karthik Reddy of Blume Ventures, who praised the new ATMs in a press statement, to keep detailed records of their crypto portfolios while still depositing fiat currency as needed.

On the other hand, the ban has certainly invigorated peer-to-peer trading. Indeed, the P2P exchange WazirX reached a new daily trading volume peak of 50 BTC in September 2018. At the same time, the global P2P exchange LocalBitcoins reached nearly $1.5 million in weekly Indian trading volume at least three times since August.

And there’s even silver lining for Unocoin, which has seen up to 500 new account registrations every day ever since Zebpay closed its doors.

“It’s almost kind of freeing in a way because there are a lot of people in India that don’t have online banking,” Ray said. “Almost everybody in India uses cash, so it might in an odd way open us up to an even bigger market.”

Still, speaking to how restricting crypto companies that seek to serve a country of 1.3 billion could affect global adoption, Ray concluded:

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Coinbase Opens Office in Ireland as Part of Brexit Contingency Plan

San Francisco-based cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase has opened a new office in Dublin, Ireland, according to an announcement published Oct. 15. In addition to helping expand its operations in Europe, the new Irish offices are reportedly part of a contingency plan for when the U.K. leaves the E.U.

Per the announcement, the Dublin team will take on a number of new business-related functions, while London will remain Coinbase’s main office in Europe. The Irish Minister for Financial Services and Insurance Michael D’Arcy commented on the exchange’s expansion:

“I am delighted that Coinbase is opening an office in Dublin. This decision highlights the competitive offering and attractiveness of Ireland for financial services.”

Coinbase’s U.K. CEO Zeeshan Feroz told the Guardian that the company is looking to capitalize on the talent pool available in Ireland. Feroz further added that the Irish office would enable Coinbase to serve its customers in the E.U. should the U.K. leave:

“It is also a plan B for Brexit. As we plan for all eventualities, it’s important that we continue servicing our customers across Europe, and Ireland would be our preferred choice there if it comes to it.”

As previously reported, in the case of an eventual Brexit, the U.K. and the E.U. agreed to leave the border between the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland open. However, the U.K. intends to leave the E.U. Customs Union.

British finance minister Philip Hammond expressed hope that blockchain technology could help ensure seamless post-Brexit trade between the U.K. and the E.U., as it enables product movement to be recorded transparently and without changes.

In December last year, digital consultancy group Reply published a study called “Blockchain for Brexit,” where it provided an insightful analysis of how blockchain could help with post-Brexit U.K.-E.U. trade. “The primary contribution of blockchain here is [to] establish a robust and watertight data trail for goods,” the report reads, arguing that such a trail would “reduce the need for inspections at the border.”

Ireland itself has gained a reputation in Europe as a hub for the tech industry, due in part to its low corporate taxes and proactive measures to bring business to the country. In June, IDA Ireland, a governmental agency responsible for attracting foreign direct investment, started an initiative to promote blockchain investment and development in the country.

In May, academics at the National University of Ireland Galway urged the government to promote blockchain in the country, arguing that the technology’s potential impact on economic growth could transform business and government operations. Ireland is also a signatory to the  European Blockchain Partnership, which was created by the European Commission this spring.