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A critical look at a new study of bitcoin mining helping power greener future

28 Mar 2024

A recent study published in PNAS explores the controversial relationship between Bitcoin mining and renewable energy.

The research proposes a scenario where Bitcoin mining profits could act as a catalyst for clean energy growth, specifically through the production of green hydrogen. However, a closer examination reveals significant technical and economic hurdles that this proposition needs to overcome.

The Study's Ideal Scenario:

  • Bitcoin Mining Powered by Renewables: The study envisions a paradigm shift where Bitcoin mining relies solely on renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Currently, Bitcoin mining consumes an estimated 100 TWh (Terawatt-hours) per year, roughly equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of Morocco. Transitioning to 100% renewables would significantly reduce the carbon footprint of Bitcoin mining.

  • Green Hydrogen as an Energy Buffer:  The study highlights the intermittent nature of solar and wind power generation. To address this variability, the concept proposes using green hydrogen as an energy storage medium. Electrolyzers powered by renewable energy would produce green hydrogen (H2) with near-zero emissions. This H2 could then be stored and used later for power generation or other industrial applications.

  • Bitcoin Profits Fueling Clean Energy Investments:  The core proposition lies in utilizing profits generated from Bitcoin mining to fund the development of new solar and wind farms as well as green hydrogen infrastructure. The study estimates that this approach could lead to a significant increase in renewable energy capacity, with solar and wind farm capacity potentially growing by 25.5% and 73.2% respectively in the US.

Technical and Economic Challenges:

  • High Entry Barrier for Clean Bitcoin Mining: Setting up and operating a Bitcoin mining facility necessitates substantial upfront investments in specialized hardware and renewable energy infrastructure. This poses a significant challenge for new entrants aiming to establish clean Bitcoin mining operations.

  • Profitability Fluctuations and Long-Term Investment Cycles: The profitability of Bitcoin mining is heavily influenced by the volatile price of Bitcoin (BTC). The recent surge in Bitcoin price above $70,000 might incentivize clean mining practices. However, during price dips (like the 2018 Crypto Winter where prices fell below $20,000), the economic viability of clean mining becomes questionable. Traditional mining operations, often located in regions with cheap fossil fuel-based electricity, might become more profitable during such periods, hindering the transition to clean mining.

  • Grid Integration Challenges:  A large-scale integration of Bitcoin mining with renewable energy sources and green hydrogen production would require significant grid infrastructure upgrades. Additionally, competition for resources like transformers and inverters could arise between Bitcoin mining facilities and new renewable energy projects, hindering overall clean energy deployment.

  • Bitcoin as a "Half-Battery": Critics argue that the study oversimplifies Bitcoin's role in the energy ecosystem. Unlike batteries that can store and release energy, Bitcoin mining is a one-way process that consumes energy without providing any direct energy storage capabilities.


The study presents a novel concept for leveraging Bitcoin mining to promote clean energy development. However, significant technical and economic challenges remain. Addressing the high upfront costs of clean mining, ensuring long-term commitment to renewable energy sources, and navigating grid integration complexities are crucial hurdles that need to be overcome. While the proposition offers a glimpse into a potentially symbiotic relationship between Bitcoin and clean energy, further research and real-world implementation efforts are necessary to determine its feasibility and effectiveness.

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