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The Node: Biden's Grid Plans Can Clean Bitcoin

Proposals for bitcoin to act as a "money battery" within the renewable system show how technology can reduce the network's footprint.

CoinDesk Insights
Mar 23, 2021 at 4:50 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 12:31 p.m. UTC

My brother posed a tough question on Zoom recently. 

How could I, as someone working in the cryptocurrency industry, justify bitcoin’s energy footprint in the age of climate change? 

Didn’t I used to write about global warming and the dangers it poses? (I did). 

This article is excerpted from The Node, CoinDesk's daily roundup of the most pivotal stories in blockchain and crypto news. You can subscribe to get the full newsletter here

A lot of people are having some version of this discussion at the moment. 

With BTC’s price rising and lots of green-minded VIPs, like Elon Musk, endorsing the idea, the long-running bitcoin energy debate is seeing new life. 

I replied as many people working in bitcoin do: It’s not as bad as the mainstream media says. The fiat money system also uses a lot of energy. It’s going to get cleaner as renewables come online. 

Later, I wished I’d framed it differently. 

What I really think is 1) bitcoin is currently dirty but ultimately worth it and 2) technology will fix the problem. Let me explain. 

Bitcoin is worth it because it is a fundamental innovation with many uses in itself and for humanity at large. Shutting it down now, as some would like to do for climate reasons, would be like stopping car development with the Model T. You have to give it time. 

Technology will fix the problem because that’s what technology does. In fact, it might already be happening. 

As CoinDesk’s Michael Casey wrote last week, there are lots of promising experiments underway to co-locate bitcoin mining with renewable energy production, funding the latter while cleaning up the former. Even more interestingly, bitcoin has potential as a “money battery,” soaking up excess renewable power where it can’t be consumed and transferring it to where it can be used effectively.

Nick Grossman, of Union Square Ventures, posted a nice write-up of the battery concept over the weekend. In closing, he wrote:

I believe the properties of bitcoin’s battery are powerful and profound, and will lead to the kinds of solutions I point to here. And as we have learned from our experience with this technology so far, that’s certainly only the beginning of what will be possible.

Exactly.

The takeaway? This debate needs to move on. We need to stop arguing about the exact size of the bitcoin energy issue or about whether it’s really a problem and start talking about what we’re going to do about it. 

The best place to start is the grid itself and incentives to lower the cost of electricity. If renewables are cheaper and more plentiful, everyone, including and especially miners, will use them. 

So here’s a proposal. As the Biden Administration considers a massive bill to integrate and upgrade the U.S. grid, what about incentives for miners and renewable power companies to work together? 

In tandem they could really fund a new generation of cleaner energy while also bringing a new form of money with myriad benefits for the world. What about, say, extra tax credits for renewable producers that work with miners?

The problem isn’t a lack of power to run everything. It’s a lack of coordination in using that power efficiently and where it’s needed. Bitcoin is a burden but it’s also a possible fix. Let’s embrace the challenge rather than run away from it.

DISCLOSURE

The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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