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Powering Bitcoin: Connecting Proof of Work to Electricity Grids - Part II

May 08, 2024
byNDAX Labs

Unlocking Value from Wasted and Stranded Energy

Next up, stranded and wasted energy hold untapped potential for boosting Bitcoin mining operations.

Wasted energy often results from inefficiencies in power production, transmission, or end-use. In the case of stranded energy, it is an economic term referring to underutilized resources. These have little or no value due to their location being inaccessible for profitable extraction. The results are operational challenges, including unnecessary emissions.

For instance, 'flare gas,' a byproduct during oil drilling, often gets burned or vented where the costs of harnessing this otherwise useful energy outweigh profit margins — making it 'stranded' at well sites.

This 'stranding' has a fascinating tie-up with Bitcoin mining operations, as demonstrated in one of Baken, North Dakota's ongoing pilot projects. CNBC reported in 2022 that instead of continuing to burn this associated gas at extraction sites, ConocoPhillips (a renowned oil and gas company) is selling the excess fuel to third-party Bitcoin miners.

The idea isn't entirely new, though. Giga Energy Solutions was founded in 2019 with Brent Whitehead and Matt Lohstroh leading the initiative using associated natural gas to mine Bitcoin. The company aims to convert superfluous natural gas into electricity using generators facilitating Bitcoin mining operations.

The implications of these moves are significant. It's a pivot that turns Bitcoin miners into problem solvers rather than contributors to an already pollution-heavy sector.

Tapping into Vented and Flared Energy

The links between Bitcoin mining and energy utilization are shifting more than ever, bringing vented or flared energy to the forefront. This practice essentially taps into wasted gases from oil and gas operations, converting them into electricity for mining, thereby minimizing environmental impact.


Crusoe Energy is a prime example of this innovative approach. This firm uses the energy derived from flare gas to mine Bitcoin, becoming a major player in the space. Its growth has been catalyzed further with investments from Coinbase, one of the oldest cryptocurrency exchanges globally, and Winklevoss Capital, founded by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, prolific Bitcoin entrepreneurs.

Their approach highlights how waste can be transformed into value: using flare gas for Bitcoin mining reduces CO2-equivalent emissions by an impressive 63% compared to continuous flaring of the gas.

Further reading: Crusoe Energy Systems acquires stranded energy bitcoin mining company Great American Mining, at the frontiers of Bitcoin mining in Africa: Gridless Compute.

The Economics of Bitcoin Mining and Electricity

Given the high computational power required for Bitcoin mining, a significant factor contributing to their profitability becomes energy efficiency. The cost dynamics of Bitcoin mining are predominantly shaped by energy costs. So much so that the geographical distribution of mining operations is influenced by varying electricity prices worldwide.

Critics often fail to consider that without mining activities, emissions wouldn't simply disappear. An unseen facet indicates Bitcoin mining gravitates toward the cheapest global electricity sources. Given the current global market dynamics, that is progressively becoming renewable resources.

Load Balancing

Another interesting approach to reducing the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining is load balancing. As mentioned above, this is right for places like Texas and other areas with auspicious electricity markets.

The practice arose as an issue due to an anomaly known as a 'duck curve,' a graphical representation of electricity load patterns throughout a typical day against solar power availability peaking during daylight but dropping substantially post-sunset.

Miners can help to even out the demand for electricity by increasing their hash rate during solar energy dips and reducing when it is at its peak.

Additionally, when insufficient power occurs due to factors like a sudden fall in wind generation coupled with solar capabilities switching off once sunset arrives, miners provide surplus power back into the grid, preventing potential rolling blackouts. This offers win-win scenarios for everyone. Grid operators minimize infrastructural strains, and miners earn benefits from sending back unused energy at peak rates.

These lessons underscore two vital branches. Firstly, Bitcoin miners are becoming integral parts of robust grids like Texas'. Secondly, renewable generation is unpredictable, which causes issues when demand remains stable, but generation varies, providing perfect opportunities for flexible Bitcoin mining operations to optimize grid utilization.

The Role of Mining Pools and Decentralization

As the Bitcoin mining terrain expands, we observe a fascinating evolution in the form of 'mining pools.' These entities are a collective of miners who join resources to increase computational strength. This alliance helps mine Bitcoins faster and more efficiently, leading to frequent block rewards that are divided among members.

These mining pools hold significant relevance in the discussion on energy consumption. The rationale is simple. Increased users and density could translate into more utilization, but it doesn't have to be that way. Efficient organizations within mining pools situated next to renewable energy sources can potentially lower environmental impact compared to miners operating individually across varied locations.

Yet, with advantages come new challenges. While grouped labour brings efficiency, it also leads to centralization within the otherwise decentralized crypto framework. This trend could bring about potential risks related to security and fairness. Hence, we cannot overlook a fundamental question: Will such centralization counteract the original vision of decentralization on which Satoshi Nakamoto built Bitcoin?

Balancing Energy Efficiency and Network Security

While it's important to strive for energy efficiency for sustainable mining practices, it can't come at the cost of reducing network security. Let's revisit the purpose behind it all.

In the realm of Bitcoin, mining isn't merely about extracting coins. It involves a series of rigorous computational operations undertaken to validate transactions and maintain the integrity of the decentralized public ledger or blockchain.

Network security comes into focus when we dig deeper into these multiple layers. If miners do not have enough computational power to support this PoW-driven consensus mechanism, would network integrity be compromised? This is where sustainable mining practices come into play. To prevent a trade-off between energy efficiency and network security.

As Bitcoin mining intermingles with electricity consumption and raises environmental concerns, regulatory considerations materialize. We've already seen that in Texas, for instance, the Senate has passed a bill that caps how much Bitcoin miners can participate in demand response programs.

Different jurisdictions worldwide are taking varied approaches to regulate energy-intensive industries like Bitcoin mining as well. On June 7th, 2022, Senators Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) introduced RFIA, partially addressing concerns surrounding crypto-industries' impact on electrical grids and environmental implications.

States are also beginning to act proactively. New York's Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation in November 2022 that places a two-year moratorium on new air permits for fossil-fuel-powered electric generating facilities providing energy to PoW mining centers.

Even Missoula County in Montana adopted zoning regulations for cryptocurrency operations requiring the use of renewable energies and holding sufficient distance from residential zones.

Innovations in Energy-Efficient Mining

As technology advances at an unprecedented rate, energy-efficient mining becomes inevitable. Similar to everyday appliances like air conditioners, manufacturers of mining equipment are steering towards creating more power-packed and energy-efficient models.

The relentless pursuit of such hardware can mitigate considerably the amount of energy consumed per transaction, making mining a more sustainable operation.


Cooling is a critical factor that impacts the energy consumption of these systems. As these machines work tirelessly round the clock, they generate substantial heat, which needs to be effectively managed for optimized performance. Hence, finding better and technologically advanced cooling systems holds significant promise.

Optimized processing units

Apart from hardware and cooling systems, the processing units involved in these calculations also hold considerable sway over how much power a mining operation consumes. Manufacturers are continuously working on creating next-generation processing units that can perform calculations faster with less energy.

A Sustainable Future Beyond Energy Consumption

The pivotal connection between Bitcoin mining and energy points us to one inevitable reality: the paradigm needs to shift. Mining cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin beyond our current scope could mean venturing into an ecosystem where mining operations power themselves via independently-managed renewable energy. As the prices of these setups continue to drop, it may even become more accessible to the general public. 

Moreover, the emergence of 'miner-less' cryptocurrencies also paints an intriguing part of this future. These tokens put forth a different consensus mechanism known as Proof-of-Stake (PoS), which nullifies competition over computational power. The deciding factor here becomes the number of tokens a user holds and willingly 'stakes' for the opportunity to validate transactions.

While Bitcoin moving to Proof-of-Stake is highly unlikely, we could see competitors such as Ethereum take the lead if Bitcoin fails to address its energy consumption issue. With their new layer 2 scaling solutions and the launch of Ethereum 2.0, Ethereum has made their transactions much more efficient and offer an alternative to the current energy-intensive consensus mechanism.


The intricate connection between Bitcoin mining and various electricity grids reveals a vibrant mix of opportunities and risks. While it's true that digital currencies like Bitcoin consume a sizable amount of energy, the bright side steps up as it pushes us to rethink our relationship with energy generation, consumption, storage, and sharing.

Adopting responsible mining practices, harnessing renewable energies, reducing wastes by using stranded powers, and ensuring equity in access via decentralized ledgers are all pieces of this complex puzzle constituting the Bitcoin-energy matrix.

As we tread on this course, pivoting around regulation, innovation, and loads of discussions - one thing is for sure. Bitcoin has challenged our perception of value and prompted us to reflect on the energy we put into creating such 'values'.

At Bitcoin’s Proof-of-Work core lies not only an immutable ledger or currency but perhaps the world’s first technology that actively incentivizes the use and development of renewable energy, as well as stranded, vented and flared energy where they are produced… And thereby one of the greatest opportunities we’ve seen to hold ourselves accountable to our planet and energy usage.

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Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide investment, legal, accounting, tax or any other advice and should not be relied on in that or any other regard. The information contained herein is for information purposes only and is not to be construed as an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of cryptocurrencies or otherwise.