Can Blockchain be Green?


The modern smartphone is more powerful than NASA’s Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC), which put Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969. However, with rapid technological development and increasing rates of global smartphone ownership and internet usage, energy use is a growing environmental concern.

Take Bitcoins, the forefront of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. As a decentralized currency, direct transactions can be done between people and entities, existing on a shared data network called a blockchain. Virtual coins are “mined” by computers solving complex algorithms.

The world’s largest cryptocurrency mining company, Hut 8, recently opened Canada’s largest bitcoin mining project in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Powered by the low-cost, natural gas-fired power plant next door, the bitcoin plant can consume 10 times more electricity than any other facility in the city.

The Bitcoin algorithm works in such a way that only a limited amount of coins can be mined every day. As Bitcoin rises in popularity, and miners compete for a decreasing number of available bitcoins, facilities are constantly forced to use more electricity. Currently, most mining farms are using electricity from non-renewable, greenhouse gas-emitting sources. Digiconomists estimate that current Bitcoin energy use is 70 terawatt hours per year. 1 Terawatt is equal to 1 trillion watts, which means that miners use more electricity than countries like Switzerland or the Czech Republic.

Enter GEAR, a company dedicated to cleaning up the cryptocurrency mining space. They are the world’s first closed loop blockchain. They use mined cryptocurrency to fund green energy assets such as solar, wind, tidal and biomass to generate clean energy that feeds back into the mining facilities. Additionally, they invest a portion of their profits to support the research and development of renewable technologies and green energy.

Other blockchain projects that harness both the innovative technology and renewable energy include SolarCoins and Brooklyn-based LO3 Energy. Participants in the Brooklyn Microgrid can trade and sell energy generated from solar panels, via a decentralized blockchain-based local energy marketplace called Exergy.

Across the ocean, Power Ledger, an Australian startup, has developed a similar solar energy marketplace that allows you to take green power into your own hands. Blockchain installed into your power meter tracks the energy your solar panels produce. The company utilizes “Sparkz,” a digital currency used to buy and sell the renewable energy, worth one Australian cent. By using the trading platform, businesses and households can sell their surplus power at a higher price to another business or person than the low prices retailers offer. The other party also benefits, because they pay lower energy prices than their retailers charges them for.

Blockchain may have started as a self-governing means of distributing money, but it has many applications outside of cryptocurrencies. Now, it is paving the way for greener energy across the information, communication, and technology (ICT) sectors.