The great Bitcoin energy debate

Proponents say Bitcoin mines support grid reliability and incentivize renewable projects. Opponents say they increase carbon emissions and electricity prices.

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

Depending on who you talk to, Bitcoin mines are either great for the grid or the worst thing that’s ever happened to it. These warehouses of computers essentially turn electricity into bitcoins. Proponents argue that mines can do a number of things for the grid, including:

  • Support grid reliability by reducing demand during peak hours.

  • Incentivize new renewable generation by raising the prices that solar and wind farms receive.

  • Reduce methane emissions by capturing flare gas from fossil fuel wells and then using that gas to generate electricity for mine operations.

Meanwhile, opponents argue that the mines raise emissions and electricity prices. So how do we make sense of the great Bitcoin energy debate?

In this episode, Shayle talks to Ben Hertz-Shargel, global head of grid edge at Wood Mackenzie. The New York Times recently reported on the role of Bitcoin mining on the grid, and Ben was part of a team that contributed to the report.

Shayle and Ben discuss: 

  • How Bitcoin mines affect electricity prices for nearby consumers.

  • Whether mines use only excess renewable generation or incentivize fossil-fuel generators to ramp up.

  • What mines’ load profiles say about their flexibility and price sensitivity, especially during peak demand.

  • The evidence on whether mines are signing long-term power-purchase agreements, repowering mothballed projects or otherwise helping to incentivize new renewables construction.

  • Alternative cryptocurrencies that don’t require so much electricity.

Recommended resources:

  • NYT: The Real-World Costs of the Digital Race for Bitcoin

  • Earth Justice and The Sierra Club: The Energy Bomb: How Proof-of-Work Cryptocurrency Mining Worsens the Climate Crisis and Harms Communities Now

  • Coinspeaker: Texas Senate Passes Bill to Limit Incentives for Crypto Miners Participating in Demand Response Programs

Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

Support for Catalyst comes from Climate Positive, a podcast by HASI that features candid conversations with the leaders, innovators and changemakers who are at the forefront of the transition to a sustainable economy. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Catalyst is supported by Scale Microgrids, the distributed energy company dedicated to transforming how modern energy infrastructure is designed, constructed and financed. Distributed generation can be complex. Scale makes it easy. Learn more at scalemicrogrids.com.