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Senator Ted Cruz agrees that Bitcoin miners say they’re helping to fix the broken Texas electric grid

CNBC | MacKenzie Sigalos | Dec 5, 2021

fluctuating energy prices - Senator Ted Cruz agrees that Bitcoin miners say they're helping to fix the broken Texas electric gridAUSTIN, TEXAS – The Texas power grid is struggling with fluctuating energy prices and sporadic service, but the state's growing bitcoin mining community believes it can help fix it.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz agrees. "A lot of the discussion around bitcoin views bitcoin as a consumer of energy," said Cruz at an event in October. "The perspective I'm suggesting is very much the reverse, which is as a way to strengthen our energy infrastructure."

The grid is called ERCOT — short for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which is the organization tasked with operating it — and it's fussy and temperamental.  ERCOT powers about 90% of the state, but to run smoothly, it requires a perfect balance between supply and demand. Having too much power and not enough buyers is just as bad as everyone wanting to fire up their AC units on the same day in July.

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The price of power per hour is all over the place, routinely going negative. Rolling blackouts at moments of peak power consumption no longer come as a surprise. A lot of people lost faith in the grid altogether after a winter storm earlier this year resulted in a multi-system meltdown that "was within minutes of a much more serious and potentially complete blackout." 

Crypto enthusiasts believe the fix to this problem is actually to add another electricity consumer into the mix — a buyer who will take as much power as they're given, whatever the time of day, and are just as willing to power down with a few seconds' notice. These flexible buyers are bitcoin miners.

At the Texas Blockchain Summit in October, Cruz pointed to the ability of bitcoin miners to turn their rigs on or off within seconds — a feature that is hugely beneficial during times when energy needs to be shifted back to the grid to meet demand.

But not all are convinced that bitcoin miners are the solution.

"Miners are a strain on the grid, not a help," said Ben Hertz-Shargel of Wood Mackenzie, a provider of commercial intelligence for the world's natural resources sector. Hertz-Shargel is concerned that bitcoin mining would only raise peak demand, ultimately adding stress to the system.

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As Lancium Chief Executive Officer Michael McNamara describes it, these sites act like a large power station but in reverse. The mines will absorb abundant renewable energy at times when supply outpaces demand, thereby monetizing these assets when there are no other buyers. And on the flip side, the mines will incrementally ramp down their energy intake, as demand on the grid rises.

In a sense, you can almost think of bitcoin miners as temporary buyers keeping these energy assets operational until the grid is able to fully absorb them.

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