How many barrels of oil are needed to mine one bitcoin?
The bitcoin boom is well and truly underway, and investors are constantly looking for new ways to gain an advantage in this space. The best way to do this, it seems, is by cutting the energy costs of mining this precious commodity.
The bitcoin mining industry consumes 22.5 TWh of energy annually, which amounts to 13,239,916 barrels of oil equivalent. With 12.5 bitcoins being mined every 10 minutes, that means the average energy cost of one bitcoin would equate to 20 barrels of oil equivalent.
Mining bitcoin has the potential to be a wildly lucrative business, with a single Bitcoin now valued at more than 100 barrels of oil. That kind of price makes it one of the most valuable commodities on the planet and, just like oil, this commodity is increasingly valuable to mine if the energy costs can be kept down.
Bitcoin transactions are secured by computer miners, who are competing for rewards in the form of coins from the network. The more computation power they use, the better their chances. The drill rig is a computer, and hydraulic fracturing is done with the tip of your fingers. It’s a phenomenally energy-intensive process.
To put this in perspective, the total energy consumption of the world’s Bitcoin mining activities is more than 40 times greater than that required to power the entire Visa network.
Cheap electricity is exactly what made China the Bitcoin mining king. The yearly cost of the energy necessary to mine Bitcoin determines its economics. But to get in on that you risk reputation because you’re either siphoning off surplus energy from somewhere else, or you’re partnering with the government. No matter how you look at it, it’s a very gray area. No one wants dirty coal fueling such a sophisticated endeavor, for example.
That’s why HIVE Blockchain Technologies Ltd.—a gold-miner-turned-bitcoin-miner—has set up in Iceland.
As one of the first public companies that lets you participate in the build-up and infrastructure of crypto mining, HIVE is taking advantage of Bitcoin’s favorite element: Ice.
It’s freezing in Iceland, so the relative energy cost of mining there is lower. Mining hardware requires enormous power and creates tons of heat, and natural temperature is key: Iceland saves on cooling costs, making it one of the most potentially profitable places to mine Bitcoin.
Iceland: New Ground (Below) Zero for Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is all about digital infrastructure. In this burgeoning industry that offers a chance at significant profits, just about any computer can be used, but companies dedicated to ether mining are the latest thing, and this is where things can really get lucrative.
This is industrial-scale bitcoin mining, and some of these companies are worth tens of millions of dollars, according to Bloomberg.
And for all of them, the Great Bitcoin Game is to keep energy costs down to make ether mining more cost-effective.
Right now, about 85 percent of the world’s bitcoin trading volume comes from China. Countries with heavily subsidized energy are obvious ether mining haunts, but now the colder countries have something to offer that has nothing to do with the government, and doesn’t involve any legal gray areas that will come under scrutiny.
It’s 100 percent Mother Nature, and as long as she keeps Icelandic temperatures … Icelandic, then natural cooling should be a boon for bitcoin. The cold countries are now the home of what is being dubbed ‘geothermal gold’.
Giant ether mining start-up, BitFury Group, is there. BitFury, out of the Netherlands, generated over $90 million in revenue this year, and predicts it will be generating $585 million in revenue by 2021. While its flagship data center is in the Republic of Georgia, it’s also now tapping into the cool temperatures of Iceland.
Emmanuel Abiodun, founder of Cloud Hashing, a company which owns a computing facility in Iceland, chose Iceland because of its cheap and plentiful geothermal and hydroelectric energy, and the “free Arctic air” that is piped in to cool the machines.
Iceland is also ground zero for Hong-Kong-based Genesis Mining Ltd, which is building the largest ether mining facility in the world in Iceland. Alphabet (NYSE:GOOG) and Facebook are there, too, taking advantage of the cold.
And HIVE has recently acquired a new data center from Genesis for $9 million and a 30 percent equity stake in HIVE, according to Bloomberg, which says HIVE shares have “Bitcoin investors buzzing”.
Right next door to this landmark bitcoin facility in Reykajanes, Iceland, HIVE has just acquired a second data center from Genesis.
Billionaire Money Pouring into Big Bitcoin
An internet advisor for Russian President Vladimir Putin is eyeing entrance into this great game, planning to raise $100 million in cryptocurrency to help Russia challenge China’s hegemony in Bitcoin mining.
“Russia has the potential to reach up to 30 percent share in global cryptocurrency mining in the future,” Putin’s internet ombudsman, Dmitry Marinichev, was quoted as saying, adding that $10 million from the proceeds of the Russian Miner Coin ICO may be spent developing processors.
Japanese billionaire Masatoshi Kumagai, co-founder of giant GMO Internet Inc., announced plans last month to invest over $90 million in a new bitcoin mining business that will operate as a fund, partially, by soliciting capital from investors and repaying them in cryptocurrency.
In North America, all the buzz is about HIVE and Genesis, and two legendary billionaire backers known for their early-in investment intuition.
HIVE’s backers include mining mavericks Frank Giustra and Frank Holmes. Giustra built up Goldcorp (NYSE:GG) in 2000 and today it trades at a market cap of nearly $11 billion, and is one of the largest gold-mining companies in the world. He was also behind Silver Wheaton, which is now Wheaton Precious Metals Corp. (NYSE:WPM), the biggest silver and gold streaming company in the world. Giustra’s 20-oscar-winning entertainment behemoth, Lion’s Gate, also took in $2.4 billion in revenue in 2015. And these are just a few of his multi-billion-dollar hits.
Holmes is the CEO of San Antonio-based US Global Investors, which has $2.6 billion in assets under management and is one of the definitive top precious metals funds in.
Both have backed HIVE, and Holmes is now its chairman.
Both still love gold because gold will always be gold, but they’re not old-fashioned. Bitcoin is huge, and they won’t be left out of the wave.
Blockchain technology is like the Internet before everyone realized its explosive potential as a revolutionary information distribution channel. Email, like AOL, was that catalyst. Now, bitcoin and ethereum are doing for blockchain what email did for the Internet.
“There's a huge scramble to be able to apply this so that you'll be able to trade stocks 24/7,” Holmes said in a recent interview.
But if you want to successfully mine cryptocurrency, you need cheap energy, ideally around 2 cents a kilowatt hour.
Mathematics Rules the Day
Speaking at the Money20/20 event in Las Vegas on 22 October, Apple Computers co-founder Steve Wozniak definitively sided with the Bitcoin camp, calling the US dollar “phony” because more can always be printed. Bitcoin, he told CNBC, is “stable” because it can’t be diluted, and its future supply is fixed at 21 million bitcoins. “Maybe there’s a finite amount of gold in the world, but Bitcoin is even more mathematical and regulated and nobody can change mathematics,” Wozniak said.
With bitcoin hitting $6,000 per coin on 21 October, and breaking new records as its adoption surges, this is no longer just a game for individual miners with fast computers. It’s now about industrial-scale mining and billionaire backing.
Even though cryptocurrency inhabits an unearthly geography in virtual time and space, where it is mined is just as important as it is for oil, gas, gold, or any other resource we mine.
The crypto sphere is everywhere, but mining its bounty means tapping into the cheapest sources of energy to keep costs down. The race now is to find the best venue with cheap energy and few reputational risks. Right now, that’s Iceland, the Genesis of the new wave of bitcoin.