Bitcoin mining has become a power-hungry industry in the US, as large-scale operations put enormous pressure on the power grid, creating higher electricity bills and significant carbon pollution for the communities around them. Bitcoin mining requires significant computing power, with thousands of machines running 24/7, using as much electricity as small cities. While some mining companies claim to operate using renewable energy, their needs far outstrip what renewable sources alone can provide.
In the US, 34 large-scale operations, known as Bitcoin mines, are consuming more than 3,900 megawatts of electricity, using at least 30,000 times more power than the average US home. The operations are located in states such as Texas, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota. The Times revealed that the electricity consumed by these mines is equivalent to powering an additional New York City, causing bills for electricity to rise by nearly 5% in some areas. Furthermore, the energy used by these mines contributes to the carbon pollution generated by fossil fuel plants, with coal and natural gas plants meeting 85% of the Bitcoin operations’ demand.
Bitcoin mining uses electricity to perform trillions of calculations every second, seeking the correct combination of numbers that Bitcoin’s algorithm would accept. The person who guesses correctly wins a small number of bitcoins worth hundreds of thousands of dollars every ten minutes. Bitcoin mining was mainly based in China until June 2021, when the country shut down Bitcoin operations citing their power consumption among other reasons. Since then, the US has become the global leader in Bitcoin mining.
Adding it up
The Times has conducted the most comprehensive estimate to date of the largest Bitcoin mines’ power usage and the ripple effects of their demand, using both public and confidential records and studies it commissioned. The analysis found that some of these mines, like Riot Platforms’ mine in Rockdale, Texas, use as much electricity as the nearest 300,000 homes, making it the most power-intensive Bitcoin mining operation in America. The Bitdeer mine, less than a mile away, is also a large-scale operation that consumes the same amount of energy. Together, they use more power than all the households within a 40-mile radius.
The surge in demand for electricity from Bitcoin mines has led to increased prices in some areas. For example, in Texas, where ten of the 34 mines are connected to the state’s grid, the demand has caused electricity bills for power customers to rise nearly 5%, amounting to $1.8 billion per year, according to a simulation performed by the energy research and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. The additional power use across the US has led to carbon pollution equivalent to adding 3.5 million gas-powered cars to America’s roads, according to an analysis by WattTime, a non-profit tech company. While many Bitcoin mining operations claim to be environmentally friendly, their power needs are too great to be satisfied by renewable sources alone, making them a boon for the fossil fuel industry.