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 asked businesses and residents to conserve energy during the heat wave — nearly every industrial mining activity in the state was arrested, according to the Texas Blockchain Council. 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. Job. “Bitcoin Miners Could Push Over 1,000… [megawatts] more than ten hours in the net several times a week.

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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.

“If we’re short on supply, reducing demand in that context is very helpful,” he said.

But, Rhodes noted, the move was not a “quick fix” to the electricity problems. “I don’t think he was saved 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 there will be more than “27 gigawatts of crypto load 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 track and verify transactions, which takes energy.

A 2019 study found 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 appear to be between the levels of 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 has been reported with other extreme heat events, as well as a record-breaking heat wave in February 2021, which left millions of Texans without power at one point as temperatures dropped below 2 degrees Fahrenheit in Dallas and 13 degrees in Houston.

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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 this week “helped ERCOT successfully meet record-breaking electricity demand using their 500 MW” or megawatt of power consumption.

Although mining companies were among those asked to 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 the miners suspending operations. “But it wasn’t quite altruistic.”

With extreme weather events becoming more common, asking cryptocurrency operations to shut down for certain times 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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