Mining is a dirty world. Will this switch make a difference?
Computers eat up a lot of energy, and so do the blockchains required to constantly mine cryptocurrency. But a new nuclear-powered data center is set to launch in Pennsylvania later this year, and it could shift at least some of that pollution-filled energy consumption to a cleaner version.
Cumulus Data has wrapped the first phase of its 475-megawatt, zero-carbon Susquehanna data center campus in northeast Pennsylvania. The project starts with a 48-megawatt, 300,000-square-foot data center to house TeraWulf, a bitcoin mining company.
The 1,200-acre campus aims to provide zero-carbon energy from Talen Energy’s Susquehanna nuclear power generation facility. The Cumulus data centers will connect directly to the facility without legacy electric transmission and distribution utilities. The data centers employing direct-connect, on-site nuclear power generation will make it the first nuclear-powered bitcoin mine in the U.S.
To mine additional bitcoin, computers must continually operate to solve complex puzzles. This process is a power-sucking endeavor that has led to massive data centers across the world dedicated just to bitcoin mining. These data centers crave energy. Ethereum, the world’s second largest crypto blockchain, has already started improving its carbon emission efforts, but bitcoin accounts for roughly 70 percent of all crypto electricity usage and hasn’t made major gains in cleaning up its process.
Electricity usage from global crypto mining quadrupled from 2018 to 2022, according to the U.S. government. By mid-2022, crypto assets were using upward of 240 billion kilowatt hours per year—more than the annual electricity of countries such as Argentina or Australia. Crypto electricity usage made up nearly 1 percent of all annual global electricity usage, and crypto operations consume up to 1.7 percent of all U.S. electricity usage.
As data centers across the world look to move cryptocurrency mining toward renewable energy, switching to nuclear may serve as one way to clean up the industry.
Tim Newcomb is a journalist based in the Pacific Northwest. He covers stadiums, sneakers, gear, infrastructure, and more for a variety of publications, including Popular Mechanics. His favorite interviews have included sit-downs with Roger Federer in Switzerland, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and Tinker Hatfield in Portland.
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