In the first half of 2017 cryptocurrencies (like Bitcoin, Ether, etc.) experimented an incredible growth – considered a bubble by some and as a proof that times are changing by others.
What is interesting (at least to someone working in the renewables like me) is this link between cryptocurrencies and renewables.
Cryptocurrencies are created with a process called “mining”. In a nutshell, computational power is used to maintain the network of computer with the ledger of transactions. Computers, electricity and time to set up the network aren’t free. Therefore the “miners” are rewarded with new cryptocoins that can be converted in other currencies, products or goods.
An artist from Berlin, Julian Oliver, created an installation – a good example of conceptual art – to convert wind energy into electricity to mine cryptocurrencies (PDF here if the link doesn’t work). Appropriately, the name of the installation is “Harvest”.
I have seen several calculations of the energy necessary on a worldwide scale to run Bitcoin and other similar networks. It’s difficult to cross check the numbers but they look quite impressive. In one of this calculation the total power used is more than the energy needed by small countries like Cyprus.
On the short term I don’t foresee people purchasing multi megawatt WTGs to create cryptocurrencies. However, given the amount of power involved in computing, the idea to power datacenter with renewable sources of energies doesn’t look so unrealistic to me in several years from now.