THIS WEEK IN SOLAR, RENEWABLE AND SUSTAINABLE NEWS.
In this week’s solar news: Texas bets on crypto mining even as many countries move to ban trading, and sheep are making a comeback on American (solar) farms
Crypto mining and the environment
To power the third largest economy in South America and keep the lights on for its population of 47 million people, Argentina requires 132 terawatts of electricity.
That’s the same amount drawn from the grid to mine bitcoin worldwide. Ethereum uses 77 terawatts a year, as much as the nation of Chile. Dogecoin, often seen as an also-ran in the world of crypto, only matches tiny Montenegro with just over three terawatts.
Capturing a bitcoin or one of its crypto kin requires a computer to solve a complex puzzle and generate a solution. Millions of machines around the world are performing the same task at any given moment, and they suck up a lot of power.
The energy required to mine cryptocurrency is staggering and presents a significant obstacle to achieving the climate reduction goals set around the world.
In fact, crypto mining has become increasingly regulated globally as nations grapple with the environmental costs of the industry. Once seen as a likely center for the practice, Scandinavian countries are less welcoming to crypto in 2022. Leaders in Sweden are trying to lead a crackdown across the entire European continent as the climate impact becomes more apparent. Even China, just a year ago, attempted to ban crypto mining altogether. Although cryptocurrencies are a growing economy, it is becoming more challenging to find locations that offer the industry low-cost electricity, low regulation and a general disregard for environmental concerns.
Texas has entered the chat.
With some of the lowest electricity rates in the country, Texas has moved front and center to the U.S. crypto market.
In February of 2021, Texas suffered one of the most devastating power failures in American history, with 246 left dead in its wake. In October, Governor Greg Abbott met with crypto investors in Austin to invite additional investments and offer them cheap electricity, tax incentives and low regulation.
Miners seem to be accepting the invitation. As of August, the Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) had received crypto mining permits worth 33 gigawatts of power ― or the equivalent demand of the state of New York. Brad Jones, head of ERCOT, told Bloomberg that the state aims to be the world’s largest center for crypto mining.
The expectation is that the increased power demands of crypto mining will spur more investment in power generation. And because crypto mining is a relatively flexible energy consumer, the power-hungry mining facilities can be shut down when there’s a real energy squeeze.
That’s exactly how it worked out during the worst of the state’s energy crunch in July, though at a cost. Bitcoin miner Riot Blockchain shut down during the crisis and sold back enough pre-purchased electricity to net $9.5 million in credits for future bills.
Whether the state’s investment in crypto will spur more investment in Texas’s energy infrastructure remains to be seen. However, wind and solar generation have flooded the state since the February 2021 crisis. In fact, during the worst of this summer’s heatwave in Texas, wind and solar were responsible for as much as 40% of the state’s electricity needs.
Solar sheep are a thing.
Gas-powered lawn mowers emit 30 tons of pollutants each year. They’re noisy, they smell bad and you can’t knit anything with their wool.
Sheep, on the other hand, make cute baaa-ing noises, supply fuzzy wool for cozy sweaters and can help you fall asleep at night if you count enough of them.
Sheep, according to the Wall Street Journal, are the weed control of choice for utility-scale solar installations. Gas-powered lawn mowers are difficult to maneuver around the solar panels and tend to shoot projectiles at very high speeds, something discouraged around acres of silicon panels. Other grazers were considered, but cows are too big to move around the equipment, and goats have the unhealthy habit of chewing wiring.
Sheep, which are perfectly sized to move under and around solar farm equipment and stick with flora, are in increasing demand throughout the U.S., as are shepherds to wrangle the flocks. The market for domestic wool, mutton, and lamb has been squeezed by Chinese and New Zealand imports for decades. Still, the rising use of the animals for weed control has even led to North Carolina State University and Cornell University launching extension services for the nearly lost art of shepherding.
The Weekly SunSong
Smash Mouth’s Walking on the Sun turned 25 years old in June. As a solar company, it would be criminal not to acknowledge a quarter century of this strutting solar classic.