Bitcoin’s massive power consumption is the cryptocurrency’s dirty secret. To mine bitcoin, computers across the globe chew through enough electricity to power a medium size country, somewhere on the order of the Netherlands or Poland depending on the estimate.
Which is why an investor-owned utility has dropped a containerized data center outside a coal-fired power plant 10 miles north of St. Louis. Ameren, the utility, was struggling to keep the 1,099 MW power plant running profitably when wholesale electricity prices dropped. But it wasn’t well suited to running only when demand was high, so-called peaker duty. Instead, they’re experimenting with running it full-time and using the excess electricity to mine bitcoin.
Ameren executives reportedly blame wind and solar power for the load variability that taxes the 55-year-old power plant. The utility claims that mining bitcoin could reduce its carbon footprint by allowing it to run its plants more consistently rather than ramping them up and down, which they say can increase emissions.
“We have pretty dramatic changes in load minute by minute, second by second at times,” Warren Wood, the utility’s vice president of regulatory and legislative affairs, told E&E News. But when it’s running full-time, they only have to take power away from the mining operations. Wood said it takes about 20 seconds to divert power back to the grid.