Bitcoin mining has a reputation for using far too much energy; the cryptocurrency industry is very much aware of this narrative, and is pursuing unique alternatives to just plugging a mining farm into the local coal-fired grid.
A recent development in the Cryptoverse has also seriously reduced Bitcoin mining’s environmental footprint – China has banned mining Bitcoin in their country, and their miners have moved elsewhere. China’s mining was driving a lot of the environmental problems with mining Bitcoin, since they heavily used coal to mine. Since the ban, China’s mining has dropped to zero.
“[A]t the beginning of the year, 53% of the entire global Bitcoin hashrate was allocated in China, down to 49% in March….Since May there has been a real collapse: 44%, down to 34% in June, and 0% in July.” – https://en.cryptonomist.ch/2021/10/18/bitcoin-mining-china-hashrate/
It’s difficult to estimate how much of the global totals for Bitcoin mining (hashrate) comes from using environmentally friendly energy sources, but it’s a safe bet that those number are increasing regularly.
“Although the percentage of bitcoin mined with renewable energy is debated, wind farms in Texas, geothermal power plants in Iceland, and hydro-powered dams in Canada have received attention as promising new locations for miners following China’s ban on ASIC mining. Similarly, El Salvador plans to power a large portion of its mining operations with geothermal energy from the country’s volcanos…Wasted non-renewable energy is also used to mine bitcoin. Most oil and natural gas operations produce excess gas as a byproduct of fracking or other oil production methods. This energy is typically wasted because it dissipates into the atmosphere or is combusted. By capturing and using gas that would otherwise be flared, bitcoin mining operations greatly reduce waste and methane emissions from fracking operations. Bitcoin miners are able to utilize wasted energy and have a cost incentive to find and collect forms of wasted energy.” – https://river.com/learn/bitcoins-energy-consumption/
Bitcoin is mined using geothermal power (like in El Salvador), hydroelectric power (like in British Columbia and Quebec, Canada), using wind power, solar power, and using stranded energy (like flare gases from oil wells).
Recently El Salvador made the news everywhere by becoming the first country to make Bitcoin a legal currency; along with this development is the (less reported) news that El Salvador is going to mine Bitcoin using some of their abundant volcano power.
“El Salvador has mined 0.00599179 bitcoin, or about $269, with power harnessed from a volcano…. El Salvador is literally dubbed the “land of the volcanoes,” and already, geothermal energy accounts for nearly a fourth of its domestic energy production” – https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/01/el-salvador-just-started-mining-bitcoin-with-volcanoes-for-the-first-time-ever-and-theyve-already-made-269.html
Canada has an abundance of hydroelectric power, and combining that with our natural cooling capacities makes Canada a desirable location for Bitcoin mining operations.
“Bitfarms, one of the largest cryptocurrency mining firms in Canada, operates five of its warehouses in Quebec. Like dozens of other cryptocurrency mining companies in the province, it uses hydroelectricity.”
Another interesting twist that has just been added to this discussion – North Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada plans to heat buildings using Bitcoin miners. This is a triple-whammy of goodness – BC uses 97% hydroelectric power for their grid, so the miners will be running on renewable energy, and then using the waste heat to heat buildings in the Canadian city (while generating income for the city of North Vancouver as well). Win/win/win!
“The City of North Vancouver, British Columbia, runs on a hydronic district energy system that delivers heat to 100 residential and commercial buildings. Lonsdale Energy Corporation (LEC)… is on a decarbonization journey to implement more renewable and clean energy, transitioning from the use of conventional natural gas….In 2022, the City and LEC will be introducing a novel heat source to their district energy system: bitcoin mining. Over the term of the engagement, MintGreen’s Digital Boilers will prevent 20,000 tonnes of GHGs from entering the atmosphere per MW compared to natural gas. Production of both bitcoin and usable thermal energy positions the Digital Boilers to be the cost leading low-carbon heating technology. – https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/north-vancouver-to-be-worlds-first-city-heated-by-bitcoin-301400596.html?tc=eml_cleartime
Wind power is increasingly becoming part of the mix for the energy used to mine Bitcoin.
“Texas has a lot of wind,” says Joshua Rhodes, an energy analyst at Vibrant Clean Energy, which builds forecasting software for electricity grid operators. The state leads the nation with more than 28 GW of wind power capacity, mostly located in west Texas. Besides the high winds, pro-renewables policies by the federal and state governments have helped fuel the boom….big electricity consumers like Bitcoin mines can negotiate power purchase agreements—contracts that stipulate that they will buy power at a certain price for a certain amount of time—directly with electricity producers, instead of having to deal with intermediaries like utilities….many of the state’s wind farms are far to the west of its biggest population centers, particularly the Houston area. Transmission lines that stretch across the state can move the power to where there is demand for it, but sometimes there’s so much wind power that there’s not enough transmission capacity to carry it all. That means power producers are eager to find customers closer to them who will purchase that excess electricity. In theory, that could give miners leverage to purchase wind power at very low prices.” – https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/02/27/905626/how-texass-wind-boom-has-spawned-a-bitcoin-mining-rush/
Solar power is another option for Bitcoin mining that is growing day by day.
“Bitcoin industry stalwarts Blockstream and Square are constructing a multi-million-dollar solar-powered mining facility… In a recent Compass Mining podcast, King noted that there really isn’t data available to determine exactly how much solar energy is available, but he’s hearing that power grid generation queues are full of new solar companies trying to get in.
“It’s huge,” he said. “There’s gigawatts of solar coming in everywhere.””
The energy we generate isn’t always right next to the population centres that need the energy, and often there is too much energy generated, and this extra energy just goes to waste (for example, wind turbines generating at night when energy demands are at their lowest). Bitcoin mining is an excellent solution to use stranded energy; Bitcoin miners can be ramped up and down quickly, and negotiations can be made with local energy producers for energy rates, and times when the excess energy will be consumed.
The production of oil also creates huge quantities of natural gas, which is usually just flared off (burned). Bitcoin mining can use this excess energy to power miners. It isn’t an ideal situation since the world is working towards stopping using fossil fuels altogether, but using the gas that would be flared off to run Bitcoin miners is actually better for the environment, and the process of flaring off the natural gas will continue until we stop producing oil from wells.
“Another promising avenue for carbon neutral mining is flared natural gas. The process of oil extraction today releases significant amount of natural gas as a byproduct — energy that pollutes the environment without ever making it to the grid. Since it’s constrained to the location of remote oil mines, most traditional applications have historically been unable to effectively leverage that energy. But Bitcoin miners from North Dakota to Siberia have seized the opportunity to monetize this otherwise-wasted resource, and some companies are even exploring ways to further reduce emissions by combusting the gas in a more controlled manner. Of course, this is still a minor player in today’s Bitcoin mining arena, but back of the envelope calculations suggest that there’s enough flared natural gas in the U.S. and Canada alone to run the entire Bitcoin network.” – https://hbr.org/2021/05/how-much-energy-does-bitcoin-actually-consume
This is a great article on a sustainable Bitcoin mining operation, led by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (who is known as a major supporter of the cryptocurrency space).
“Sustainable Mining Operation And Its Effect On Global Energy Economy
“Square, a financial services group, led by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, announced a project in December 2020 known as Bitcoin Clean Energy Initiative (BCEI).
With a fund of USD 10 million, the project aimed to support companies who would contribute to the bitcoin mining ecosystem’s green energy usage.
BCEI published a white paper in April 2021 highlighting the excellent prospects of the bitcoin mining industry in the future.
Bitcoin mining can act as a complementary technology for sustainable energy management as the mining industry is a unique purchaser of electricity. The uniqueness comes from the highly flexible nature of the sector in terms of payment method, location indifference, and electrical load distribution.
Despite being the least expensive energy sources, solar and wind energy have bottlenecks caused by their inability to supply uninterrupted power. Bitcoin miners can address this issue by consuming surplus electricity when production is abundant on a sunny or windy day. This flexibility in load distribution will reduce the cost even further….
Bitcoin mining can act as a complementary technology for sustainable energy management as the mining industry is a unique purchaser of electricity. The uniqueness comes from the highly flexible nature of the sector in terms of payment method, location indifference, and electrical load distribution.” – https://www.benzinga.com/markets/cryptocurrency/21/08/22643842/green-energy-sustainable-future-for-bitcoin-mining-opinion
When all you hear about Bitcoin mining is negative stories on the nightly news, you can develop a skewed idea of what Bitcoin mining is all about. Yes, it uses a lot of energy (like so many other industries we find necessary in our modern, high-energy-use lives), but that’s nowhere near the whole story. The people involved in the Bitcoin industry are some of the brightest, most technologically advanced people in the world; they know of the energy consumption problems of Bitcoin mining, and are working to make this better.