Cryptomining centers are full of computers that operate 24 hours a day. (Photo: Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)
The surge in the price of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin has not gone unnoticed at Hydro-Quebec, the “miners” having shown a greater appetite for energy, which has enabled it to increase its income from these companies. .
Last December, consumption in this sector amounted to 100 gigawatt hours (GWh) – the monthly consumption of about 65,000 single-family homes – an increase of approximately 10% compared to the previous month.
“We noticed a peak for the power demand, but from existing customers,” said a spokesperson for the state-owned company, Jonathan Côté. This appears to be an effect of the rise in Bitcoin. ”
Bitcoin, increasingly seen as a financial asset, shattered records to end 2020 at around C $ 37,000, even though it touched an oscillating low around C $ 6,700 in March. On Thursday, the virtual currency was trading at nearly $ 47,500.
Cryptomining centers are essentially large spaces housing thousands of small computers designed to perform billions of attempts per second to confirm transactions, which explains the high power consumption.
Last year, this sector enabled Hydro-Québec to generate revenue of $ 60 million, which represents an annual increase of 7%.
“What we can say is that the industry has carved out a good place for itself,” said Côté, adding that the crown corporation did not anticipate a marked increase for new requests for connection.
Hydro-Québec is also awaiting a decision from the Régie de l’énergie which should define the framework for the cryptocurrency sector.
Currently, the power available for this industry is around 400 megawatts (MW) – 210 MW in the municipal networks and 190 MW on the Hydro-Quebec network.
“The fact remains that this is a volatile industry whose sustainability is not guaranteed, which prompts us to be cautious about the development of this customer segment,” said Mr. Côté.
In Quebec, Bitfarms, whose shares are traded on the TSX Venture Exchange, operates five cryptomining centers and is particularly present in Sherbrooke, where it has reached an agreement surrounding a 98 MW supply guarantee with Hydro-Sherbrooke.
While he was anticipating a rise in Bitcoin, company president Geoffrey Morphy didn’t expect it to happen at the end of 2020. Bitfarms is not using all the power at its disposal, which is not why However, it does not prevent it from investing in its facilities.
“We keep updating our (computers) to make them more efficient,” he said in a telephone interview. We get more with the same energy consumed. ”
Bitfarms, headquartered in Toronto but with 80 full-time employees in the province, is currently studying the possibility of adding a sixth center, which could be located in Quebec.
Despite the fluctuations, current levels are attractive to continue growing, said Morphy, noting that the company’s annual energy bill was around $ 23 million.
“If (the value of) Bitcoin was at US $ 15,000, the profitability wouldn’t be great,” he said. But anything above that level is interesting. ”
While they represent a source of income for Hydro-Québec and other municipal networks, cryptomining centers, with their computers which generally operate 24 hours a day and seven days a week, can hold unpleasant surprises for residents if they are are nearby. Large fans are needed to keep installations cool due to the heat produced by the installations.
In Sherbrooke, the Bitfarms plant located on rue de la Pointe and whose activities began in 2019, has been repeatedly criticized by some residents of the neighborhood. After years of efforts, Marcel Cyr, spokesperson for the citizens’ group for the return to silence, hopes that an outcome will soon occur in the case.
“The noise is always disturbing,” said Cyr, on the phone. I was walking on a track about a kilometer from the factory and you can still hear it. ”
Over the course of complaints and meetings with local authorities, Bitfarms has erected a noise barrier, which has been changed on more than one occasion. However, the problem surrounding the noise still persists.
However, an outcome could dawn on the horizon. Following verifications carried out by Sherbrooke and Quebec, the company will have to present an action plan by the end of the month to detail, in a precise manner, how the problem will be resolved.