Morocco has the most prime real estate for wind power on its southern coast. But without strong transmission lines to carry the electricity from there to the majority of industries, a traditional wind power plant can wait years for a grid connection before it starts making money.
But if you are connected to the Internet, one option might be to build an isolated wind farm and use it locally while waiting to connect to the rest of the grid. In Soluna’s case, a money-making product that allows you to use the community to mine Bitcoin.
Soluna, a bitcoin mining company, will begin construction on a 36 megawatt (MW) wind farm near Dakhla, Morocco, in January 2019, company spokesman Yoav Reisler told Ars. The company has rights to 37,000 acres of land, which can accommodate up to 900MW of wind power.
The company, managed by New York private equity firm Brookstone Partnersexpected to raise $100 million to complete the project, which, in addition to 36MW of wind, will include computing facilities that draw up to 18MWas well as an energy storage system to power the computing center when the wind is down.
Bitcoin mining is a notoriously power-hungry endeavor, consuming gigawatts of power as application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) through computationally intensive problems to generate keys that translate into coins. That makes energy one of the key cost drivers for Bitcoin miners after they have purchased their equipment. Finding a stable electricity source is the main concern for those startups that are still in the mining business. When Bitcoin was at its highest price last winter, forecasts showed that energy consumption would only grow as the price of Bitcoin rose. Miners have flocked to areas around the world with cheap electricity, like upstate New York, even though communities there have moved to stop new companies from driving up electricity costs. Bitcoin startups have even bad ideas, like fired coal plant completed in Australia, to power their mining rigs.
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Now, as Bitcoin’s price has dropped by more than half since its December peak, the energy around the cryptocoin has died down a bit. In an email to Ars, John Belizaire, CEO of Soluna, said that in the near future Soluna still plans to mine Bitcoin. But that may not be forever. “Over time we will provide computing to a wider range of Blockchain applications that are not cryptocurrencies,” Belizaire said.
Eventually, though, the company hopes to sell some of its electricity back to the grid in Morocco through Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). “Morocco has the only law in the world that effectively guarantees PPAs for energy suppliers,” Belizaire told Ars. “We’ll start with this and grow from there.”
The law in question, Belizaire said, allows people to develop energy sources for self-sufficiency and also “allows the Moroccan government to buy up to 20 percent of our excess energy.”
“Depending on our future energy, we can partner with the largest commercial players in the country and beyond to buy our energy,” he added, although he admitted that Morocco’s Rule 16-08 It currently prohibits some renewable investors from selling more than 20 percent of their renewable energy back to the grid. “This will require the Moroccan constitution 16-08 to be replaced by 13-09,” Belizaire noted.
The project is also overshadowed by geopolitical concerns. Moroccan control over the southern part of the country has been weak and has been contested by the Sahrawi people until a truce in 1991. Western Sahara Resource Watch, an organization advocating against further Moroccan influence in the Western region Sahara, opposed the project in August for “violating the rights of the Sahrawi people” and accusing Morocco of “trying to involve foreign companies, to justify its occupation of Western Sahara.”
In the tribe previous interview with GreenTech MediaBelizaire said that Soluna “is fully aware of the political sensitivities of the region,” and noted that the company’s “investments in Dakhla, Morocco fully respect the legal regulations related to energy development.”
Belizaire said that the management of the air farm will be contracted, and that Soluna employees hired in Morocco will manage the computer farm.
On the one hand, a vertical integration with an energy company is a reasonable hedge against Bitcoin’s lower price. Not only will the computing center be set up to provide other blockchain services or to mine other cryptocoins, but Belizaire told Ars that the company has “the option to use our high-density computing platforms to power AI, machine learning, and imaging tools. .”
Amendment: This story has been updated to reflect that Soluna expects rule 16-08 to be replaced by 13-09.