Can Texas mitigate wind and solar curtailments by leveraging bitcoin mining?

An increased capacity to produce renewable energy has led to power curtailments due to the lack of storage for energy oversupply. This excess energy could make a profit if it was used and managed effectively. Bitcoin, with its recent boom, associated market values, and excessive energy consumption during mining presents a win–win proposition for managing renewable energy curtailments. Therefore, in a bid to minimize renewable energy curtailments from the perspective of the independent system operator (ISO) while maximizing the profit for the investor, this study attempts to discover the optimal planning and operation of a bitcoin mining farm to minimize renewable energy curtailments. Specifically, renewable energy curtailments for the Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) at an hourly resolution and the difficulty and price, respectively of bitcoin mining during 2020 and 2021, were considered in our analysis of the cost and profitability of bitcoin mining using curtailed renewable power. Besides, a greenhouse gas (GHG) analysis was also conducted to evaluate the annual emissions from each of the cases considered in this study. The results demonstrated that 93% of the curtailed energy could be used at a minimal cost to generate a $239 million profit. From an investor's perspective, 69.8% of the curtailed power could be used to generate a profit of $605 million. Cost minimization case scenario had the least amount of emissions followed by profit maximization case with penalty scenario. Sensitivity analyses and Monte-Carlo simulations were performed to investigate the effect of system parameters on the optimization results for an in-depth analysis of possible policy and investment decisions from the perspectives of both the ISOs and investors. Despite the uncertainties associated with the price of bitcoin, it was estimated that ERCOT, with its current renewable energy curtailments, would still be profitable in the case of profit maximization if the bitcoin price remains above $6800 throughout the year. Accordingly, bitcoin mining has substantial potential for becoming an effective medium to prevent renewable energy curtailments and turn energy oversupply into profit.

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