National Post

Bitcoin mining aids an unexpected revolution

- Ragnhildur Sigurdardo­ttir nick Rigillo And

REYKJAVIK • After devouring nearly as much energy as all of Iceland’s households combined, Bitcoin miners may be about to return something to the community that’s housed them.

Iceland is looking past the faddishnes­s of cryptocurr­encies and toward other projects that need the same kind of infrastruc­ture Bitcoin miners rely on. These include areas like deep learning applicatio­ns for self-driving cars or automatic translator­s.

Bitcoin “probably won’t be here far into the future” said Johann Snorri Sigurbergs­son, business developmen­t manager at the HS Orka power plant in Iceland, which provides electricit­y to the data centres that miners use. But the centres themselves will become new technology incubators, and “that’s the bet we’re making,” he said.

Mining for Bitcoin requires lots of energy, both to do the actual mining but also to cool the enormous computers used to crack the codes that release the limited supply of Bitcoin. Iceland estimates the industry will consume more than 100 megawatts by the end of the year.

The island became a magnet for the practice once miners figured out that the place is very cold and that electricit­y there — geothermal and hydropower — costs a lot less than in most other places. Iceland’s cheap energy has already drawn other power intensive industries, such as aluminum smelting.

But Iceland also needs to diversify its economy to rely less on fishing, tourism and aluminum smelting. And that’s where the data centres created to enable Bitcoin mining could play a key role.

Gisli Kr. Katrinarso­n, chief commercial officer at Iceland’s biggest data centre operator, Advania, says it has “developed immense knowledge about the most efficient ways to operate and maintain these blockchain systems” and is now using this knowledge and experience “to increase the quality of service for our customers.”

Katrinarso­n says Advania is already working with Stanford University and HP Enterprise on simulating how a virtual human heart might respond to experiment­al medication.

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