Limit Bitcoin, Crypto Miners Helped Texas During Heat Wave

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As a scorching heat wave swept through Texas this week, straining the power grid with record demand, the state’s bitcoin miners shut down their power-hungry machines.

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In accordance with requests from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — the grid operator that has asked businesses and residents to voluntarily conserve energy during the heat wave — nearly all industrial-scale mining operations in the state have been shut down, according to the Texas Blockchain Council, an industry association. .

Cryptocurrency mining requires massive amounts of electricity, raising concerns not only about the ability of Texas’s beleaguered network to meet growing demand as more miners are expected to migrate to the state, but also the wider potential environmental impact of mining. impact of the industry.

“More than 95% of industrial-scale bitcoin mining reduced power consumption during peak periods in the past week,” Lee Bratcher, president of the Texas Blockchain Council, wrote in an email to Washington. Post. “Bitcoin Miners Could Push More Than 1,000… [megawatts] several times a week more than ten hours in the net.

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While that usually doesn’t seem like much, it can matter during peak times, said Joshua D. Rhodes, a research associate with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin. When a power grid is “a few thousand megawatts away from supply and demand, a 1% change can make a big difference,” said Rhodes, who has consulted with cryptocurrency mining companies.

“When supply runs out, reducing demand in that context is very helpful,” he said.

But, Rhodes noted, the move was not a “silver bullet” for the electricity problems. “I don’t think he saved the grid on his own,” he said. “This was part of a series of energy consumer actions that helped maintain grid stability.”

In recent years, Texas has become one of the favorite places for crypto entrepreneurs. To date, about 10 facilities have been connected, and more than “27 gigawatts of crypto-load will be worked on the interconnection over the next four years,” ERCOT said in a statement to The Washington Post.

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Around the world, the massive environmental footprint of the cryptocurrency industry is increasingly under scrutiny. The common coin mining method involves huge amounts of computing power. Miner networks must use processors to solve complex puzzles to earn coins and to track and verify transactions, which consumes power.

A 2019 study estimated that bitcoin, one of the most popular cryptocurrencies, emitted between 22 million and 29 million tons of carbon dioxide in the previous year, according to findings published in the journal. Joule peer reviewed.

“This means that the emissions produced by bitcoin fall between the levels produced by the nations of Jordan and Sri Lanka,” the study authors wrote.

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Meanwhile, extreme weather events, largely due to climate change, continued to strain Texas’s electricity system, which operates independently of the national grid. The recent heat wave was preceded by other extreme heat events, as well as a record-breaking heat wave in February 2021 that left millions of Texans without power at one point as temperatures plummeted to minus 2 degrees Fahrenheit in Dallas and 13 degrees in Houston.

Autonomous state of Texas rocked by inability to keep lights on

Amid scorching temperatures this week that sent electricity demand skyrocketing to record highs, ERCOT has made public calls to save energy. Wednesday’s call said efforts by residents and businesses earlier in the week “helped ERCOT successfully meet record electricity demand by reducing their power consumption by 500 MW,” or megawatts.

Although mining companies are among those asked to voluntarily save energy, “they have no obligation to save,” ERCOT said in a statement to The Post.

Bitcoin miners “are doing it both because it’s the right thing to do and because they’re incentivized by market mechanisms within ERCOT,” Bratcher wrote in an email.

Some companies have signed up for programs offered by ERCOT, which pay heavy electricity consumers not to use electricity during periods of high demand, Rhodes said. The price of electricity also rises when the power supply is limited.

“It’s good to know they can and there are times when they’re willing,” Rhodes said of miners voluntarily suspending operations. “But it wasn’t completely altruistic.”

With extreme weather events becoming more common, asking cryptocurrency operations to stop during certain periods may be seen by some as a potential solution to avoid overloading power grids.

“That could become an expectation in some people’s minds,” Rhodes said. “But I think until it’s formalized in a program and someone signs a contract, I’m hesitant to trust it.”

It’s important, he said, to find ways to make the shutdown worthwhile for businesses. “It’s not a good idea to rely on someone to just be a good citizen.”

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