A new study by researchers at Cornell University found that Bitcoin mining could mitigate against climate change by accelerating the shift to renewable energy.

The study, “From Mining to Mitigation: How Bitcoin Can Support Renewable Energy Development and Climate Action,” investigated planned renewable energy projects in the U.S., calculating the potential profit from Bitcoin mining during the precommercial development phase.

During this phase, wind and solar farms generate energy but are not yet connected to the grid; the study found that this surplus energy could generate millions of dollars in Bitcoin, which "could be invested in future renewable energy projects."

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According to a press release accompanying the study, Texas alone could generate combined profits of $47 million across 32 planned renewable energy projects, with the 250-megawatt Aktina Solar and Roseland Solar projects generating a potential profit of $3.23 million apiece.  The 367-megawatt Western Trail Wind project could account for a further $2.65 million, the study indicated.

The states of California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Nevada and Virginia also house renewables projects that could potentially profit from Bitcoin mining during the precommercial development phase, according to the study.

The researchers behind the study recommended providing economic incentives for environmentally friendly crypto mining, such as carbon credits for avoided emissions.

"These rewards can act as an incentive for miners to adopt clean energy sources, which can lead to combined positive effects on climate change mitigation, improved renewable power capacity and additional profits during precommercial operation of wind or solar farms," said co-author Apoorv Lal.

Lal also recommended that mining operations be incentivized to return some of their profits to renewable infrastructure developement. "This would help create a self-sustaining cycle for renewable energy expansion."

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Bitcoin mining and energy consumption

Bitcoin has previously come in for criticism of its energy consumption, with the Cambridge University’s Centre for Alternative Energy making headlines in 2021 when it claimed that Bitcoin consumes more energy in a year than Argentina.

More recently, the University updated its Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index (CBECI) model, revealing that its earlier power consumption estimates were substantially overstated—with Bitcoin’s 2021 electricity consumption figures reduced by 14% under its new model.

A June 2023 report by crypto intelligence firm Coin Metrics revised Bitcoin mining's energy consumption down further using ASIC model "fingerprints" to provide a more granular view of miners' efficiency.

A September 2023 research note by Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Jamie Coutts concluded that the Bitcoin mining industry is now using more than 50% green energy, though the researcher who provided much of Bloomberg's data told Decrypt that the claim is only "partially correct." A combination of more off-grid renewable miners, miners transitioning to sustainable sources, more mining using the Texas grid, and less mining in Kazakhstan have contributed to Bitcoin mining's reduced emissions intensity, they said.

Meanwhile, an academic paper published in August 2023 found that crypto mining using renewables could "potentially drive a net-decarbonizing effect on energy grids," by helping to absorb surplus power generated by wind and solar facilities.

Edited by Stacy Elliott.

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