Bitcoin as a battery
Green energy goes to waste if it’s not used when generated. Batteries that can store renewable power for when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing are the holy grail of the energy industry. For now, these don’t exist at the necessary scale. But some see a way that Bitcoin could function as another sort of “battery.” It could store the value of renewable energy by converting intermittently available local solar and wind power into a globally traded digital asset with unlimited shelf life.
Another way Bitcoin mining can be made more sustainable, some argue, is to use “stranded” or wasted energy, for example capturing the power of flare gas at oil patches to mint digital money.
Can crypto mining be made sustainable?
Prager: When you have an electrical grid, you want that grid to become increasingly more sustainable. Have a lot more renewables. These are intermittent energy supply choices — hydro, solar and wind, which are all great, which we will be sourcing for our mining capacity. You want to have a load that is constant, which enables the grid to be robust. You have this load that is Bitcoin mining all the time, but that load could go away. It could be shut off in the 200 hours a year when there are supply strains. So it’s good for the grid. That’s good for everyone.
Does the metaphor of Bitcoin as a battery make sense?
Breitman: A one-way battery isn’t a battery. There’s Bitcoin mining in Texas. There was a crisis there and people were freezing. Why weren’t they able to use the energy stored in that Bitcoin battery? That’s not a battery.
How else can Bitcoin help with wasted energy?
Prager: At the end of the day, there is a massive amount of electricity in our country that is simply stranded or wasted. So again, context. You need spinning reserves here. You need flexible baseload facilities to be able to develop the grid if everyone wants sustainability, and I certainly do. That is what zero carbon emission Bitcoin mining does.
Does using excess energy to mine crypto make it more sustainable?
De Vries: Bitcoin uses a lot of energy, but if it’s a use of energy that would otherwise be going to waste then it’s not really a problem. And that’s a lot of the so-called stranded assets. But in a lot of cases those assets happen to be fossil fuel. China recently banned Bitcoin mining because these Bitcoin miners were ultimately responsible for the revival of coal mines. We are seeing similar examples in the U.S. and New York, where a gas plant was revived from mining Bitcoin.
An often-overlooked factor in the environmental cost of crypto is the mining hardware, which becomes outdated quickly and generates toxic electronic waste.