Cryptocurrency miners are reportedly looking to move their operations to Norway and Sweden, with hydroelectricity and other renewables from more developed European countries allowing for cheaper electricity tariff’s beneficial to profits as electricity is the main overhead. Iceland has been a popular location due to the low temperatures which naturally dissipate the heat that is generated.
What is mining?
Cryptocurrency mining consists of two main processes. Verifying and adding transactions to a block in a blockchain, and solving highly complex cryptographic puzzles with a ‘Proof-of-Work (PoW) algorithm. In a typical PoW blockchain such as Bitcoin, the first of competing hardware to find the solution is rewarded with cryptocurrency. As more miners join the network, growing computational power results in an increasing solving difficulty, requiring more powerful, energy-intensive hardware to mine currencies.
Problems associated with large-scale IT solutions
As with any large IT solution, mining can be energy intensive and has large power requirements. The local power grid needs to be able to cope with the peaks and troughs of the total energy draw in the area. Local powerline infrastructure also needs to be able to cope with heavy loads of power on the lines.
Vast amounts of heat are generated due to resistance in current computer components as they are made of copper. In order to improve the shelf life of the components, cooling is required. Cooling will come in the form of fans or air conditioning, which again requires more power.
With general power needs growing for an expanding population, there is a need to continue to develop more efficient production and distribution methods. Bitcoin mining is an expanding area as well. As per Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, Bitcoin’s current estimated energy consumption is already at 60.24 TWh.
Green power solutions for miners
Currently, China contributes to around 70% of cryptocurrency mining due to its relatively cheap electricity. Growing pollution concerns from coal-fired power have resulted in legislation being introduced to restrict mining in cities such as Beijing. This has led to miners seeking out new locations to set up operations.
In Norway, hydropower contributes to more than 99% of electricity, while Sweden uses a combination of hydropower/nuclear at a 40/40 split.
Both Norway and Sweden have encouraged their countries to welcome cryptocurrency mining. It makes commercial sense, as energy providers will be attracted to the consistent power draw of mining operations that tend to run round the clock. Cheaper renewable power, cooler climates that aid cooling requirements and friendlier crypto legislation in these countries are proving enticing to mining companies.
Future power requirements
If the growth in cryptocurrency energy consumption continues at current rates, it will quickly become unsustainable. Credit Suisse estimates that if Bitcoin’s price were to reach USD 50,000, we would see an increase in the electricity consumption by ten times. With a wider adoption of blockchain among our other growing energy requirements, we will need to take steps towards greener energy solutions.
Rising mining power requirements could stimulate more growth in renewables as more portable variations are quicker to set up compared with nuclear alternatives. Localized renewable power solutions also require less infrastructure compared with nuclear, which often needs to be situated near a water source.
The power requirements of mining have the ability to have a knock-on effect on other markets. Higher demand for renewables will create more jobs and competitive markets lead to innovation.