It’s almost impossible to visualize a quintillion. Written out, it looks like this: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000. Perhaps it’s best to think of it as one billion billion.
In February, the Canadian Bitcoin mining company Bitfarms announced that its five warehouses of mining computers crossed the landmark of collectively making one quintillion Bitcoin verification calculations per second.
In the business, that is known as one “exahash” per second.
In cryptocurrency mining, the miner who is first to find the next elusive “hash” number is currently rewarded with 6.25 Bitcoins.
The hash system forms the backbone of blockchain technology, the system on which Bitcoin is built.
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According to Hydro Québec, Bitfarms is one of about 80 cryptocurrency mining companies in the province.
Between them, they went through 1.1 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity in 2020, which is almost double the figure from 2018.
It is equivalent to the power used by about 100,000 Canadian homes, or 0.5 per cent of all power sold by Hydro Québec in 2020.
Hydro Québec told Global News that it’s not concerned about the scale of the energy being used by cryptocurrency farming, but it does have safeguards in place to protect its grid from overload.
On Jan. 28, the provincial energy regulator, the Régie de l’énergie du Québec, approved a request from Hydro Québec to obligate cryptocurrency farms to lower their energy consumption during high-demand cold snaps in the winter.
Cryptocurrency mining companies are attracted to Quebec by the relatively low power rates and the chilly winter air, which helps keep the whirring banks of computers cool.
Worldwide, the cryptocurrency mining industry is booming, too, spurred-on by the stratospheric rise in the price of Bitcoin in the past year.
In March 2021, the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Alternative Finance estimates that Bitcoin miners are currently using what would amount to more than 130 TWh per year.
That’s as much energy as Sweden uses every year.
A study at the same university estimates that 39 per cent of that energy comes from renewable sources, like hydro, solar or wind — in other words, most of it does not.
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Bitfarms president Geoffrey Morphy said that’s why Quebec is a sustainable choice for miners, with its abundance of renewable energy, primarily coming from hydroelectric dams.
“In terms of electricity, our largest input is done with renewable energy and then our output being heat,” he said.