This is an opinion editorial by Sergii Gerasymovych, CEO and Co-Founder of EZ Blockchain, a bitcoin mining company focused on using wasted and underutilized energy.
We’ve been here before. This is the second “crypto winter” for my company, which produces Bitcoin mining containers.
In this article, I will share the story of how our Bitcoin mining company survived its first crypto winter, and is now surviving its second (as well as the world’s ongoing energy crisis), and what we think will happen with the energy and crypto mining industries in the future.
Our First Crypto Winter
Our company was launched in the first quarter of 2017 as a data center hosting solution with a mission to bring the best technology to Bitcoin miners.
We suffered a knock-on effect and initiated widespread redundancies as we struggled amid the looming cryptocurrency crash of the time. But we were still young, so our company had little to lose. We had only five employees and we had to learn to survive, mainly by managing cost and operating in a lean and mean way.
Surviving Our Second Crypto Winter
We arrived at the second crypto winter as one of the world’s largest Bitcoin mining container producers (producing 10 containers every week). We have been one of the pioneers in utilizing wasted flared gas energy for Bitcoin mining and had built 10 cryptocurrency mining facilities across eight states and Canada, operating with more than 200 megawatts (MWs) of power.
But 2022 was among the most challenging years for us and the entire Bitcoin mining industry. It was characterized by declining bitcoin prices and rising energy costs, influenced by the energy crisis provoked by the war in Ukraine. Many mining companies declared bankruptcy, and those that survived had to reconsider their operations.
Some companies managed to survive in a year-long crypto winter, one that is arguably not over yet, record mining difficulty and completely-frozen funding. From my six years of experience running a Bitcoin infrastructure company, there are a few solutions I can share that I hope will help others or offer insight into how resilient Bitcoin mining can be. This should not be considered a panacea for market downturns or managerial advice, but simply what I have learned for myself.
First, We Called Our Power Providers
The bull run over the last few years has shown that Bitcoin miners prioritize acquiring miners over securing relationships with utilities.
But we believe that prioritizing the securing of power, and all of the infrastructure behind it, is critical. Last year, the bankruptcies of mining companies taught us just that. Having open communications with power providers on realistic expectations always helps sketch a clear plan for getting power flowing safely and on time.
There are multiple reasons why utilities are incentivized to sell power to Bitcoin mining companies: First, they make a profit on every kilowatt-hour (kWh) sold. However, giving more incentives to the electricity supplier, such as load flexibility, the high-capacity factor and controlled load increase, helps build a stronger foundation among integral partners in the Bitcoin mining industry. From my experience, power providers do not see Bitcoin miners any differently than other electricity consumers, as long as the bills are paid on time.
When the energy crisis hit us, the first thing we did was to call our power company partners and tell them that all the bills would be paid. We started to run the extra mile, investing in relationships with them.
Take A Hands-On Approach To Construction
We all know that electricity bills often take up more than 90% of mining expenditures. However, the seed for a successful Bitcoin mining operation site is planted with the first conduit in the ground, even before the machines start buzzing.
Developing a Bitcoin mining farm is a tedious job, requiring many moving pieces to come together. Usually, we are so focused on the bitcoin price and mining difficulty that not enough time is spent on the design, site planning and construction of a well-run facility. This fundamental job is usually outsourced to a consulting firm, an engineering firm or someone else.
But the negligence in hands-on planning of an operation during the construction and development stage can cost a fortune going forward. Even the most professional construction firm most likely has yet to gain experience in building a Bitcoin mining farm. It must be guided by Bitcoin nerds who know about common power supply problems like ASIC overheating issues, firmware upgrades, etc.
We’ve learned that a well-built Bitcoin facility reduces operational, cooling, maintenance and uptime expenses for years. On the other hand, a poorly-designed site can lead to rebuilding a plane in the air. The worst nightmare can be when everything is set, and you realize that something crucial is wrong. It could be that the voltage on a transformer is incorrect, or the cable is not sized correctly to operate 24/7, 365 with a nearly-95% load factor, just to name a few potential issues.
Learning about transformers, substations and airflow during development helps avoid future mistakes. This type of involvement is more crucial than constantly negotiating the price of mining equipment online. From a simple business perspective, the depreciation rate on a mining farm project is more than a decade, relatively small compared to that of mining equipment which is only a couple of years. That is why we let the mining infrastructure sit and wait for ASICs.
Bitcoin mining operations are marathons, not sprints. They require hard work behind the scenes before the hash rate shows up in the pool. Therefore, when the second crypto winter hit us, our key company players rolled up their sleeves and put their best feet forward to ensure the business operations were set up for success.
Think Creatively About Energy Consumption
Gas Flaring Mitigation
As power demands and electricity costs continue to rise, miners must integrate their power generation vertically. They must find new ways to generate revenue that do not only depend on hash price.
In 2018, when the bitcoin price started to fall, we were looking for alternative and affordable power to stay afloat. The obvious idea was that to get the most affordable power, one needs to generate electricity to eliminate intermediaries. We then realized that there was no way we could generate hydro, wind or solar power with a limited budget.
However, gas and electric generation has been around for decades and is relatively simple. What about natural gas? We would not have to buy propane tanks to mine Bitcoin. There was no need when billions of cubic feet of natural gas are burned annually in oil fields. While drilling for oil, natural gas is released from the same reservoir. Sadly, the gas is flared due to a lack of infrastructure or economic feasibility in capturing it. That’s when I first realized that Bitcoin mining could be a tool that supplements the inefficiencies of the energy industry. Since then, we started mining Bitcoin on natural gas.
The energy sector is transitioning from a fossil-fuels-dominated era to one of renewable power. Specifically, wind and solar are intermittent, adding stress to the grid. Our solution to inconsistent supply has been mixing renewable energy with natural gas-peaking power plants. These power plants are flexible enough to fire up the turbines within a few minutes’ notice to respond to the undersupply.
Those operations that are heavily dependent on renewables power grids need to implement a demand-response program where the grid incentivizes the users to reduce the load. This has become a game changer in power grid operation. By lowering the peak demand for energy, demand response programs reduce the need to construct new, expensive peaking generation units. However, since the introduction of the National Action Plan On Demand Response in 2010, more progress has yet to be achieved.
A decade since, Bitcoin mining is the game changer. It is the most flexible, efficient, financially-feasible and, most importantly, working solution to grid instability. It can dispatch enormous loads of power in minutes without requiring any subsidies. It is market driven because Bitcoin miners always search for lower-cost operating facilities. Interestingly, the demand-response industry attracted a lot of attention once it started working correctly at scale. But the hero happened to be a long-hated “villain”: Bitcoin.
Energy companies have worked with Bitcoin miners long enough to understand that this industry is here to stay. It is a matter of time until the entire energy industry grows enough hard skin to accept it. Bitcoin mining has flipped from being just a power consumer to a consumer with benefits. The mining companies that will adopt different mining strategies, including optimizing operational costs, partnering with energy providers and finding a way to earn additional revenues using Bitcoin mining as a tool for energy management, will prevail.
This halving cycle ending in less than a year means that electricity sourcing and power prices will be even more crucial for the long-term success of the Bitcoin mining community. The next era of mining winners will be technologically-adapted companies with versatile toolkits to manage crises on many levels, including technological solutions for updating existing and developing new solutions.
Winters will come and go, Bitcoin will stay. The question is, who remains along with it?
This is a guest post by Sergii Gerasymovych. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.