Why Glow Excites Me
Dec 19, 2023
I discovered the joy of Bitcoin in 2011. The price is still burned into my brain: $1.50. Since then, it's been a wild ride. I remember the pump to $30, the crash to $10, the Gox saga that brought us to $260. After Gox collapsed, I loaded up at $70, and paid off all of my college debt when bitcoin cracked $700. I remember the long bear that followed the crash from $1200, and more recently the peaks at $20,000 and $60,000. The whole time, crypto has been central to my professional career.
Through all of it, the vision has been stronger than the technology. Bitcoin is no longer used for everyday payments. It's no longer used for remittances. The lightning network never reached maturity. Filecoin is selling cloud storage for free and utilization is still below 5%. Helium's billion dollar hardware ecosystem caters to just tens of thousands of dollars of demand. Crypto by volume remains largely a casino, and very little of crypto's true potential has come to fruition.
One year ago, I faltered and lost faith in my own product. I looked at how long we had been building, how far we had come, how many users we could support, and I got stuck at how much more technology we needed to build to support the next wave of users. I realized it was more than we could accomplish, and that the right choice was to move on. It felt awful to step away; I was giving up on 9 years of passionate labor, and I was giving up on millions of people who had believed in me along the way.
I spent 6 months completely checked out. I sank deep into the emotional cold plunge that is depression, and I spent a long time thinking about our industry: about all of the false starts, about everything that had worked, about everything that had failed.
Three things came forward with great clarity.
Crypto's Undeniable Strength
Crypto has left a massive physical footprint on the world. If Bitcoin was a country, it would be rank 36 in terms of electricity consumption. And it's not just Bitcoin. Filecoin has 24 million terabytes of data storage on its network. Helium built nearly a million network hotspots in more than 50,000 cities around the world. Chia, a blockchain that hardly anyone has even heard of, has 33 million terabytes of storage securing it - yes, that's more than Filecoin.
Crypto is good at mobilizing massive amounts of raw infrastructure. It does it quickly, it does it efficiently, and it does it cost effectively. And the results always defy common sense, especially because crypto manifests actual physical infrastructure that requires real capital expenses. And most of the time, that infrastructure never even does anything useful.
Crypto's Biggest Weakness
Crypto struggles to build functional products. The technology is weird and doesn't align well with the user experience that most people expect from modern products. But even more than that, crypto requires a lot of engineering.
In Silicon Valley, a typical early stage startup will launch an app, collect user feedback, and then launch a new version of the app 2-4 weeks later. In a typical 18 month fundraise cycle, a startup can pump out more than a dozen iterations of their core product, each one stronger than the last and learning from real customers.
In crypto, a typical 18 month fundraise cycle often isn't even enough to get through a single iteration of the product. Adapting a crypto project to new user requirements of requires months of research followed by more than a year of engineering. The slow development speeds prevent crypto from doing enough iterations to make amazing products.
Even worse, when a crypto product finally does hit the sweet spot, it grows to roughly a million users and then breaks because crypto is fundamentally difficult to scale. If a more scalable product ever gets released, it happens years later and the total scalability gains are likely less than 10x. It's now an ancient app that nobody cares about, and even if they did it would still get stuck around 10 million users, a paltry ceiling relative to the tech industry.
Crypto's Heart and Soul
At its core, crypto is a way for communities to come together and pursue a vision that goes beyond any single person. Buying a token is not just a bet, a speculation, or an investment. It's a tangible commitment to a value system.
Crypto gives people a way to shape the world. It gives people a power that can't be found on the stock market, in real estate, in treasuries, or by donating to a charitable cause. Crypto empowers collective action, creates communities without borders, and aligns total strangers in a shared mission and vision.
For many of us, crypto adds a rich layer of meaning and purpose to our lives.
As I sat there in my depression, my resolve grew. I had given up on Sia, but I hadn't given up on crypto. Crypto so clearly had everything it needed to change the world.
I wish I could say that Glow was my own idea, but the truth is that Glow was presented to me by a random friend I had made at burning man. I was sitting there, staring vacantly at a blank wall for roughly the fortieth day in a row when Alma called me out of the blue:
"Your next project should combine solar and crypto".
I told him he was wrong. I said that there was no way those two things made sense together. But he insisted, and he flew me out to Salt Lake City. He told me he didn't know how, but he knew without a doubt that crypto and solar made sense, and that I was the man to put the pieces together.
And so, for a week, we talked. About solar panels, power companies, electricity revenue, power purchase agreements, carbon credits, batteries... and each time we reached a new topic he would bring in friends of his who were experts in their respective parts of the solar world to share their experiences and wisdoms.
And on the last day of our trip, everything clicked. I realized that Alma was right. Crypto and solar made sense together, and I had all the skills to bring that marriage to life.
The Shape of Glow
It took me, my advisors, and the solar community more than 6 months of focused effort to architect Glow. We knew Glow needed to leverage the raw infrastructure power of crypto. We knew it needed to somehow incorporate both the electricity revenue from solar farms and the carbon credit production of solar farms. And we knew that Glow needed competition between its solar farms.
In the final version of Glow, solar farms are required to donate 100% of their electricity revenue to an incentive pool before they can receive rewards. The amount of money that a solar farm generates for Glow determines how many Glow tokens that farm earns.
The money in the pool is paid out to solar farms based on how many carbon credits each solar farm produces. Glow effectively purchases carbon credits from the solar farms using their own electricity revenue.
The carbon credits themselves are owned by the Glow protocol. Glow auctions these carbon credits off to individuals, corporations, and nations that want to be carbon neutral, and prospective buyers are required to bid using Glow tokens. The winning bids are burned, which then creates value for Glow token holders.
The Many Advantages of Glow
One useful and mostly correct way to think of Glow is to imagine it as a charity for building solar. When someone buys carbon credits, that money is used to build solar farms. As those solar farms produce electricity revenue, the electricity revenue is used to build even more solar farms. In this way, each dollar of donations can turn into $20 or more of brand new solar farms in the world.
Except, instead of happening in a centralized, planned sort of way, Glow builds solar farms through competition. The builders that create the cheapest, most efficient solar farms will have the highest profits, and raw carbon credit output per dollar spent is essentially the only criteria for making money on Glow.
The Glow competition closely mirrors the incentive design of giants like Bitcoin, Filecoin, and Chia. A large pile of tokens is created every week, and the solar farms that produce the most revenue get the most tokens from the pile. Similarly, the large pile of electricity revenue that is collected from solar farms each week is distributed based on carbon credit production. Solar farms that produce the most carbon credits get the most cash.
In theory, the growth of Glow should be even more explosive than predecessors like Bitcoin, because almost every solar farm on Glow produces its own electricity revenue, and the value of that revenue is usually within a few percent of the overall cost of construction of the solar farm.
From an engineering perspective, Glow is refreshingly simple. There is no distributed system. There's no novel cryptography, there's no load balancing or routing, and no zero knowledge proofs. There aren't any upgradable contracts. The core assets can all be moved to L2 or even centralized custody where scalability is much better. The governance is lightweight, and changes to the user experience can be made on the order of weeks rather than on the order of years; updating the user experience does not require changing the blockchain code.
Every purchase of Glow tokens pushes the Glow mission further. As the Glow tokens gain value, the total rewards for solar farms go up, bringing more and more solar into the Glow ecosystem. This solar then produces carbon credits, which helps to reinforce the long term value of the Glow tokens. People who want to change the world can do so by simply purchasing GLW.
Perhaps best of all, incentives are aligned across everyone in the Glow ecosystem. Solar farms benefit when people buy and hold tokens. Climate advocates benefit when people buy and hold tokens. Token holders benefit when corporations and governments leverage Glow to achieve carbon neutrality. Everyone in the world benefits as Glow rolls out more and more renewable energy.
I spent the first 12 years of my life in crypto asking "what is the most that I can get out of crypto?". But it wasn't until a year ago that I started asking "how can crypto get the most out of me?". And I, along with the rest of the Glow community, have spent the past year looking for every possible opportunity to set Glow up for success.
We didn't choose solar because we thought crypto could improve solar. We chose solar because we thought solar could improve crypto. Crypto is a powerful force that is going to change the world. And Glow is going to show us how.
Dec 19, 2023