In Captain Kirk’s universe, starships fly around at the speed of light and can effortlessly beam people from one place to another thanks to scientific advances that let humanity produce massive amounts of energy.
Fictional or not, that type of technology could be useful for bitcoin. Unlimited energy would solve one of bitcoin’s major issues: The enormous amounts of electricity required to produce new pieces of the popular virtual currency, which can only be created using immense computing power.
Of course, we’re a long way from mastering matter-antimatter reactions. But one company is pushing to make bitcoin mining a bit more sustainable — and William Shatner is among those at the helm. Shatner is a spokesman for Solar Alliance, a Canada-based solar energy company that on Wednesday said it had acquired a 165,000 square-foot warehouse in Illinois. Its plan? To equip the warehouse with a 3-megawatt solar panel array and rent the space to bitcoin miners.
Based in Murphysboro, Ill., the solar array would aim to reduce the amount of electricity that the bitcoin farm must pull from other sources, such as the regular electricity grid.
“As an advocate for solar energy, I was intrigued by the potential for it to power cryptocurrency mining operations,” Shatner said Wednesday in a release.
Shatner has previously described himself as a cryptocurrency skeptic. In a 2014 tweet, he called bitcoin a “cyber snob currency.” But since then, he appears to have had a change of heart.
“I am proud to be a part of the group that is powering the digital currency revolution,” said Shatner this week. “Blockchain technologies, and cryptocurrencies specifically, are at the cutting edge of a new distributed technology infrastructure.”
Murphysboro’s mayor, Will Stephens, said that the Solar Alliance project is expected to create jobs and position the town for the future.
Three megawatts of solar capacity isn’t a whole lot. In eastern Washington state, for example, which has become a hotbed of bitcoin mining activity due to the cheap, abundant hydro power that’s available there, bitcoin farms routinely seek out facilities that can support massive energy requirements.
“These miners are coming in and are asking for 20, 50, or 100 megawatts, which is a very large power request,” said John Stoll, managing director of customer utilities at Chelan County Public Utility District, which supplies power to a region east of Seattle. “A residential home around here will usually use 1,000 to 2,000 kilowatt-hours a month.”
One recent peer-reviewed study projected that bitcoin mining will account for roughly 0.5 percent of the world’s electricity usage by the end of 2018 — as much consumption per year as the entire population of Austria. Citing research by Morgan Stanley, the New York Times reported in January that creating a single new bitcoin takes as much electricity as a typical U.S. household consumes in two years.
Recent shifts in the solar industry could affect Solar Alliance’s initiative. Last week, China announced it was ending a number of key domestic subsidies for solar power, a change that analysts said reflected an oversupply in the global market for solar panels. China’s new policies could make it easier for people to buy panels that otherwise would have gone to local solar projects. Meanwhile, however, the Trump administration has imposed new tariffs on solar panels, which could increase prices.
“The tariffs roughly increase the overall [Murphysboro] project cost by 3 percent,” Jason Bak, Solar Alliance’s chief executive, told The Post in an email. Bak added that the extra costs would be “miniscule,” and that the price of panels only accounts for roughly a third of a project’s overall cost.