A common critique of cryptocurrencies is that they use an excessive, unsustainable amount of energy. This is especially the case with Bitcoin and other proof-of-work coins that rely on computational power and electricity usage as a means to secure their networks.
And, quite frankly, there is merit to these sentiments. As cryptocurrency adoption grows globally, it will become increasingly difficult to argue that proof-of-work blockchain networks are sustainable when powered by fossil-fuel-reliant energy grids.
Even though a growing number of cryptocurrencies are being built around—or transitioning to—more energy-efficient networks, the reality is that there is no indication that Bitcoin’s blockchain will follow suit. How it functions still makes sense to a great many people and this is evidenced by its continued market dominance. So, it hard to imagine that proof of work will go the way of the dinosaurs anytime soon.
But, that doesn’t mean the industry has to stay agnostic about its environmental impact.
Here at Purpose Investments, we offer carbon-neutral investment options for both our Bitcoin and Ether ETFs. We’re also extremely excited about the growing number of green crypto mining initiatives that are using a combination of carbon capture technology and renewables to clean up the industry.
-Crypto is often criticized for its energy consumption, but new projects are beginning to challenge that narrative
-The world’s stranded energy problem is providing the opportunity for green crypto mining innovation
-Crypto mining can stimulate the growth of green energy infrastructure
The productive potential of stranded energy
While there is a lot of emphasis placed on how much energy Bitcoin’s network consumes, another important, but much less emphasized narrative, is just how much stranded or wasted energy exists in the world.
As an example, the World Bank estimates that over 144 billion cubic meters of natural gas—enough to take care of the annual energy needs of sub-Saharan Africa—is flared as a byproduct of global oil production. In the majority of cases, the economic incentives are not there for oil producers to capture the gas and send it to viable markets. So, it’s burned off onsite. (1)
Though not as environmentally detrimental, there is also a large amount of energy wastage in places like Costa Rica and Scandinavia, which have an overabundance of hydroelectric capacity. Often, the infrastructure just isn’t there to transfer the power from these remote facilities to communities or countries that need it. In Costa Rica’s case, that means much of its hydroelectric overproduction sits in the country wasted, as opposed to making its way to its energy-starved neighbours such as Nicaragua. (2)
In Scandinavia, depending on the season, there is such a glut of green energy that in 2021 they had an oversupply of 30 terawatt-hours per year. While a proliferation of green industry around these power sources figure to change these statistics, the fact remains that at present there is an abundance of hydro power that needs to find a buyer. (3) This reality is providing unique opportunities for green crypto mining innovation.
Crypto mining’s portability is proving to be its strength
Because the setup for crypto mining can be so modular—you can take as many or as little pieces of hardware as you want, stick them in a ventilated container and set up shop anywhere there is electricity—a growing number of companies are trying to make use of this stranded energy.
Crusoe Energy Systems is one such example; it focuses on setting up mining operations that use gas flaring as their energy source. According to the company, their flare-capture technology reduces methane released into the atmosphere through flaring by 98% and Co2 by 63%. (4) In so doing, the company is making the oil production in the places they set up for business greener, while simultaneously profiting from a previously wasted energy source. So far, their mining operations in North Dakota, Texas, and New Mexico have diverted 10 million cubic feet a day of gas that would have otherwise literally just gone up in smoke. (5)
Soluna Holdings offers perhaps an even more compelling iteration of this business model. They are one of the few Bitcoin mining companies trying to mine exclusively using excess renewable energy. Because wind and solar farms produce power in cycles—if the sun’s up, there’s a lot of energy. Sun’s down, there isn’t—waste is inherent in the system. These surges in power production don’t only result in energy being created and not used, but, in worst-case scenarios, also overload the power grid, which can cause outages and backlogs. (6) Along with their already operating catalogue of data centres, Soluna is in the process bringing on line three projects, the first of which is a 100 megawatt facility at a wind farm in Texas producing excess electricity.
Looking forward: mining can make the grid greener
There are genuinely environmentally conscious businesses and people populating the cryptocurrency mining space. While corporations and individuals can help move the industry towards renewables, the reality is that it is the economics of crypto mining that seems poised to be the most powerful driver towards green crypto.
Miners need cheap energy to be profitable. Full stop. It is the nature of the game. Though coal has been the source of cheap energy for many nations over the years, especially for the historically significant Bitcoin mining hotspots of China and Kazakhstan, this reality is changing. The International Renewable Energy Agency reported that 62% of renewable energy projects in 2020 would cost less to start up than if coal plants had been started to produce the same amount of energy. (7)
Even gas, which has been used as a “bridge fuel” for power grids transitioning from coal to renewables, because of its lower carbon impact, is losing its economic viability when compared with wind, solar, and hydro. A study by the analytics firm, TransitionZero, has found that amid the recent oil and gas price surges, the average cost of switching from coal to renewables compared with transitioning from coal to gas has plummeted 99% since 2010. (8)
As cryptocurrency adoption grows, there is a growing number of people who argue that miners’ quest for cheap energy will actually speed up the global adoption of green energy. Tech entrepreneur Daniel Batten articulated these thoughts when speaking about crypto mining energy usage and how it pertains to renewables: “My only real concern is ‘is Bitcoin mining requiring enough electricity to help us build up that grid to the extent we need to?’” (9) Whatever ends up happening, we are excited about seeing how green energy and crypto mining intersect in the future.
–Haan Palcu-Chang, Crypto Content Specialist at Purpose Investments
(1) “Gas Flaring Explained,” The World Bank: https://www.worldbank.org/en/programs/gasflaringreduction
(2) “Can crypto ever be environmentally friendly?” DW: https://www.dw.com/en/bitcoin-can-cryptocurrency-mining-ever-be-environmentally-friendly/a-60818440
(3) “Bitcoin mining: Is Scandinavia’s crypto boom coming to an end?” DW: https://www.dw.com/en/bitcoin-mining-is-scandinavias-cryptoboom-coming-to-an-end/a-57443905
(4) “Robust colocation for the world’s cleanest data,” Crusoe Energy Systems: https://crusoecloud.com/pdf/Sale-Slick.pdf
(5) “Green Bitcoin Mining: The Big Profits In Clean Crypto,” Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2021/08/02/green-bitcoin-mining-the-big-profits-in-clean-crypto/?sh=2bd67c1234ce
(6) “Soluna receives $35M form Spring Lane to Build Green Data Centers,” Coin Desk: https://www.coindesk.com/business/2022/05/12/soluna-receives-35m-from-spring-lane-to-build-green-data-centers/
(7) “Most wind and solar projects will be cheaper than coal,” The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jun/23/most-new-wind-solar-projects-cheaper-than-coal-report
(8) “it’s now cheaper to switch from coal to renewables instead of coal to gas, report shows,” CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/18/costs-for-switching-from-coal-to-renewables-has-plunged-transitionzero.html
(9) “Earth Day analysts say Bitcoin mining is naturally gravitating to green energy,” Coin Telegraph: https://cointelegraph.com/news/this-earth-day-analysts-say-bitcoin-mining-is-naturally-gravitating-to-green-energy
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