Created with Sketch. Norweigan fjords and glacier meltwater could hold the key to bitcoin mining
It costs more than £2,000 to mine a single bitcoin, which means cheap energy is vital. Anthony Cuthbertson visits an underground operation in Norway that offers a viable – and green – solution The Independent As the cryptocurrency’s popularity has grown, so too has its energy demands ( Dilruba Tayfun )
D eep beneath a mountain on the ragged edges of Norway , tucked within 28 kilometres of tunnels, are 15 shipping containers filled with millions of dollars’ worth of computers. Stacked three-high in neat rows, each container pumps out thousands of dollars’ worth of digital currency each day through a process of electronic mining . Together with countless other operations around the world, these containers form the foundation of the bitcoin network.
Standing inside one of the 40-foot containers, the temperature is 45C and the roar of the cooling fans is so loud you can’t hear yourself speak. Unlike traditional money, bitcoin doesn’t have a central government or bank in charge of distributing and backing the currency. Instead, it relies on the processing power of computers to solve mathematical problems to generate new units of the cryptocurrency, while simultaneously verifying and recording any transactions on the network to an online ledger called the blockchain.
When bitcoin was first conceived in 2009, only a handful of regular computers were used and it was possible to mine the cryptocurrency from a laptop. But as its popularity grew, so did its energy needs. Almost a decade later, millions of these machines are required to support bitcoin and the 2,000 other cryptocurrencies that have since come into existence. Altogether, they consume more energy than the entire nation of Ireland. Almost a decade later, millions of machines are required to support more than 2,000 cryptocurrencies ( Dilruba Tayfun )
“Bitcoin is essentially the monetisation of energy,” says Hass McCook, a chartered civil engineer who has spent the past four years researching the environmental impact of bitcoin and cryptocurrency. “It turns energy into hard money, meaning bitcoin miners are chasing the cheapest power in the world, not the cleanest. Unfortunately for the environment, that means most mining machines are in China, where the coal-generated electricity is cheap.”
Scientists say this has put the world on the brink of an environmental disaster. The carbon emissions produced by the vast energy demands of bitcoin could push global warming above 2C in just two decades, according to a recent study in Nature Climate Change . The subterranean complex that houses these containers could be the key to preventing such a catastrophe. Read more If Bitcoin continues to take so much energy ‘it will kill the planet’
Until 2009, the mountain was home to a much more traditional type of mine, which saw millions of tons of the mineral olivine excavated annually, before it shut down for nearly 10 years and eventually transformed into what it is today: the Lefdal Mine Datacentre. Stepping outside the container and corkscrewing to the surface in a car, one of my hosts explains that it’s not just the location that makes this bitcoin mining operation unusual.
“This whole place runs off green energy,” says Dr Hajo Durr from Northern Bitcoin, the Frankfurt-based cryptocurrency mining company which owns the containers. “For us it seems absurd to mine something so new with something so old, like coal. Bitcoin is the future of money and renewables are the future of energy. It’s the perfect fit.” Inside each container are 210 mining rigs that produce thousands of dollars of bitcoin each day (The Independent)
Inside another mountain on the other side of the Nordfjord fjord, just a short ferry ride away from the Lefdal mine, is where the power for Northern Bitcoin’s mining machines is generated. The Askara hydro power plant, which was built in a hollowed out section dug one kilometre into the mountain, is fed by melting glacier water and reservoirs. It is capable of passing 17,000 litres of water through its turbines every second, enough to fill 100 large bathtubs. But this is nowhere near enough to meet its hydropower potential. The day I visited, a gushing waterfall nearby signalled that its magazines were full. “You may see a waterfall,” one of the workers said to me, “but all I see is wasted energy.” The 20km tunnels are the same length as all the corridors in the Pentagon combined ( Lefdal Mine Datacentre )
Looking at Norway on a globe, it might not seem at first glance the country with the world’s second longest coastline. But zooming in on its fjord-filled fringes reveals 58,000 kilometres of shore that is topped only by Canada – carved out by glaciers that have made it the ideal place for hydro power to thrive. With such an abundance of clean energy, it’s no surprise that electricity costs in Norway are low.
The 200 megawatt capacity of the Lefdal Mine Datace...