October 12, 2017 / 7:27 AM / a year ago

REFILE-REUTERS SUMMIT-Blockchain, gas & smart power: RCMA Group plans energy expansion

(Clarifies headline and 1st paragraph to show that any blockchain technology could be used, not necessarily bitcoin.)

* Amid Australia’s ailing energy markets, RCMA eyes gas assets

* Is looking for digital solutions business partners

By Henning Gloystein

SINGAPORE, Oct 12 (Reuters) - For other news from Reuters Global Commodities Summit, click here Australian gas fields, clean energy in Singapore and blockchain solutions for retail electricity all form part of the plan of commodity merchant RCMA Group to expand its Asia-Pacific business, its head of energy told Reuters.

Starting in Europe in the 18th century selling soft commodities such as corn, rubber and palm oil, RCMA is eyeing opportunities in the Asia Pacific region, especially Australia and Singapore, David Maher, its Managing Director for Energy told the Reuters Global Commodities Summit on Thursday.

“I’m very excited about gas. It’s a structurally bullish sector,” he said, speaking in Singapore.

Many reasons for this can be found in Australia’s ailing energy market, which will require investments that raise natural gas consumption to be solved, Maher said.

Suffering from an underinvested grid, a declining amount of ageing power stations, and a surge in intermittent renewables, Australia has suffered several power outages and huge price spikes this year and in 2016, and there have been warnings of renewed electricity shortages in the upcoming summer.

“A lot of Australian coal-fired power stations have been switched off, while virtually all of the new gas production is being exported. This means that there is not enough night-time back-up for Australia’s surging solar power output,” he said.

As a result, Maher said Australian industry does not have access to cheap energy, despite the country’s rich fossil fuel resources and huge renewable potential.

“It’s a real problem for Australian industry, and the whole situation shows just how ridiculous things have become. But what this means is that there is a need to invest into new back-up power generation,” Maher said. “Because gas is much cleaner than coal, and it can be switched on and off faster, it is a perfect companion for intermittent renewables. This applies to Australia and many other parts of the world. Because of this, we’re interested in trading and marketing gas rights,” he added.

To do that, the firm’s subsidiary RCMA Energy plans to invest into energy assets, including Australian onshore natural gas fields. It already owns a small oil field in Western Australia, and Maher said RCMA was looking to add more production.

To leverage the assets, Maher said RCMA plans to start retail electricity trading in Western Australia, which would add to its existing wholesale power trading operations there.

In Singapore, where the company already has a wholesale and retail power trading licence, Maher said RCMA is looking for partners to expand its business, including in renewable power and smart energy solutions.

“It’s a bit like in telcos, where no company just operates phone lines anymore. Electricity suppliers have to do the same thing. We have to offer smart solutions, digital solutions, including blockchain,” Maher said, which could potentially be offered for use to pay electricity bills.

Digital blockchain solutions, which are spreading fast, involve using digital currencies like bitcoin or ethereum instead of conventional currencies like the dollar.

“To establish these goals, we are looking for strategic partners,” he said.

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Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Christian Schmollinger

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