The energy consumption of Bitcoin mining is huge, and people are taking notice. The increases have scaled up rapidly, with mining energy consumption rapidly outstripping the total of small countries. And many see this ever-growing carbon footprint as a threat to climate change.
But it is not a threat. In fact, increasing energy consumption can save the plant.
Bitcoin Mining Energy consumption and the byproduct
In the early days of Bitcoin mining, you could mine with a laptop at home. Just set up a rig and run it, and while the room can get a little warm and your utility bill add up, an early miner can be profitable. At the time, miners only competed with other hobbyists or very small facilities.
But gone are the days when a single person could set up a rig in their home and competitively mine for Bitcoin. Today, to mine competitively, you need to be fast, big and powerful. This means you have the most advanced hardware at scale to execute algorithms the fastest. Huge data centers with thousands of platforms now populate the competitive mining landscape. Those with the best performing hardware, the most efficient software, the best operations performed, and the cheapest electricity will be ahead of the competition.
And that computer level will cost a lot of energy. Bitcoin mining is estimated to be produce 77 TWh of energy annually, which is comparable to Chile’s energy consumption.
Such high energy production, which is necessary to remain competitive, means that mining operations must keep low energy costs a priority in their operations. Because crypto mining is not tied to a location, many mining companies are looking to regions to build data centers that offer cheap and ideally renewable energy sources. Currently, renewable energy sources such as hydropower and wind are not only the cleanest but also the most cost-effective for mining operations. Mining companies are also looking for locations that have excess energy left.
But when there is a tremendous amount of energy going in, a tremendous amount of energy must come out. It’s a simple law of thermodynamics: all that energy that is expended cannot be destroyed, so it has to go somewhere. That surplus comes in the form of heat, a byproduct of mining activities. The heat released by computers is so great that data centers are not only concerned with hardware, but also with cooling systems.
Until now, heat has been just a by-product that had to be cooled and distributed. But now Bitcoin miners are asking, What if something good could be done with that excess heat? How can heat generated by mining operations be recycled or reused, providing a sustainable, clean energy source? For example, can data centers heat houses or greenhouses or replace heat sources for certain industries? What about colder climates where heat is scarce?
Datacenter heated greenhouses
There is a new partnership in Northern Sweden that is looking for answers to these questions.
To make their region more sustainable, the Boden Business Agency wants to partner with energy-intensive industries to create synergies between the two, and our company, Genesis Mining, has stepped in to provide computing power. The partnership also includes the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) and Luleå University of Technology.
Nordic countries have already attracted mining activity due to the available renewable and cheap energy sources. But there is now an opportunity for mining operations to give back in the form of excess heat to greenhouses to grow food, making the local economy more productive and sustainable. According to Mattias Vesterlund, a senior researcher at RISE, “a 1 MW data center would have the potential to enhance local self-sufficiency by up to 8 percent with products that are competitive in the marketplace.”
Genesis Mining is supplying a 600 kW air-cooled data center container, which will supply heat to a 300 square meter greenhouse via a purpose-built air duct system. The heat would keep the greenhouse at a comfortable 25 ° C (77 ° F) year round, in a region where the temperature can drop to -30 ° C (-22 ° F). The project focuses on the cultivation of fruit and vegetables, but data center heat can be used to grow fish, insects and algae, and can also provide heat for drying fruit and vegetables.
This would allow the local agricultural economy to increase food production. Not only would it make local producers more sustainable, but it would also reduce dependency on imports while meeting regional energy efficiency targets.
The project is also a social project that brings together local farmers, municipalities, scientists and the IT industry. Mining operations solve local issues related to sustainable scalability of food production, and local farms provide mining companies with ways to recycle their waste and offset their carbon footprint.
Strengthen local economies while promoting decentralization
These partnerships will also advance the vision of decentralization that is so important to crypto mining. By offering sustainable green electricity in the form of data center heating, it offers a use case for decentralization of energy production. And by seeing more of these projects emerge, it is forcing mining companies to reassess their role in giving back, as they are already ready to provide renewable energy to the communities around them.
A connected greenhouse may seem like a small-scale initiative for now, but it lays the foundation for large-scale implications. Could Bitcoin mining operations ever help heat villages, support food industries, or even power entire cities? The opportunities look viable.
In the meantime, you shouldn’t blame Bitcoin for its energy consumption. Encourage it as it can be the way to a more sustainable future.
This is a guest post by Marco Streng. The views expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.