Twitter debates the role of renewable energy in Bitcoin mining

It all started with a tweet by Dennis Porter, podcast host and self-described Bitcoin advocate, that led to a heady discussion about renewable energy and the role of Bitcoin miners. Porter asserted that Bitcoin (BTC) creates incentives to build out renewables, but environmental scientist Peter Gleick rebuffed the statement as a “self-serving lie.” 

The comments section got heated when Nic Carter, Castle Island Ventures general partner and Coin Metrics co-founder, entered the chat and called out Gleick for allegedly not knowing anything about energy. 

Carter proceeded to explain how energy markets work and defend cryptocurrency use in a thread of tweets. He first refuted Porter’s claim that every kilowatt-hour, or KWh, of renewable energy is “already being put to use productively, and bitcoin diverts that use.” He argued that Porter is wrong in saying that every unit of energy is being used, citing market reports that show negative energy prices or curtailed energy that has “no economically productive use.”

He pointed readers to initiatives led by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, organization that operates most of Texas’ electrical grid with an excess supply. In a presentation he gave at the Texas Blockchain Summit last year, he said that Bitcoin mining can improve the economics of renewable energy projects.  

Related: Texas should use Bitcoin mining to capture wasted natural gas: Sen. Ted Cruz

According to Carter, bitcoin mining has provided wind and solar installations the ability to soak up any excess supply that cannot be sold. Any energy that tends to be wasted when the generator stops exporting to the grid or even temporarily shuts down can be offset to mine Bitcoin. He added that there is already a movement of miners plugging in to grids at wind farms who can buy energy during off-peak periods or when prices are high, and give households better access during times of heavy demand. He called for his critics to appreciate these miners who are currently evaluating just how economically viable the infrastructure can be.

With over 400 comments, the thread was full of commenters siding with both Carter and Gleick, or asking for clarifications and additional reading material from them. One user, “@SGBarbour” who builds bitcoin mines agreed with Porter that bitcoin miners “do not incentivize renewables,” but rather “they help un-sink capital in unreliable generation.” So while Barbour agreed that mining is good, he doesn’t think that it fixes the fact that “so much capital has been wasted installing unreliable energy generation like wind and solar,” he stated in a Substack article. 

Conversely, another user “@jyn_urso,” a climate change physicist and recently converted Bitcoin advocate, applauded Carter for “laying out yet another great thread on how energy markets work.” According to her previous tweets, she believes that solutions at the community and individual level such as Bitcoin mining can help accelerate the transition to renewables, and lessen reliance on political structures to do so.

Overall, this debate shows how Bitcoin and energy use is widely misunderstood. The disagreement over whether Bitcoin represents a good use of the unused energy is still to be proven. An increasing number of scientists and climate change advocates are open to considering that Bitcoin’s energy consumption could unlock renewable energy gains.

Carter ended up changing his Twitter name to ‘nic no credentials carter’ after Gleick pointed out their differing academic degrees and expertise on energy. Another supporter of Carter chimed in to poke fun at Gleick for using his authority status as his evidence for claiming truth.

One country that is setting the example for Bitcoin miners is Norway. A recent government report shows that Norway’s electricity mix is 100% renewable, giving miners there access to completely green and cheap electricity, especially hydropower.

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