Amid Green Energy Push, Data Centers Consider The Nuclear Option
A pair of nuclear-powered cryptocurrency mining facilities — the first two in the United States — are expected to go online by the end of 2022.
Nearby in Ohio, cryptocurrency infrastructure operator Standard Power announced a deal to power its facilities with nuclear energy for the next five years. Between them, the two nuclear mining hubs will be able to house almost 200 megawatts of computing power — comparable with the world’s largest data center campuses.
These projects reflect the growing appeal of nuclear power as a way to fulfill the seemingly insatiable power demand of cryptocurrency mining operations, which are essentially just data centers used to perform complex calculations that verify blockchain transactions and create digital currencies.
"Right now, millions of Bitcoin mining devices around the world are generating 130 quintillion of such guesses every second of the day non-stop,” economist Alex de Vries told CNBC. “Combined, these machines are now consuming as much electrical energy as a country like the Netherlands.”
Standard Power’s deal with Energy Harbor Corp. will provide nuclear power to Standard’s new Bitcoin mining hub, built into an abandoned mill in Coshocton, Ohio. The 50 MW data center will serve as a sort of colocation facility for blockchain-based currency miners.
Pennsylvania-based Talen Energy has already begun construction on its data center campus on the property of the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, one of the largest nuclear plants in the United States. The hyperscale complex will house 164 MW of processing power for both blockchain mining and traditional data center uses.
“As the demand for energy increases among data center and cryptocurrency processing clients, so does the call for decarbonizing these energy sources,” a company representative told Data Center Dynamics. “It will provide low-cost, reliable, carbon-free power to the data center clients on campus.”
While a move away from fossil fuels is part of Bitcoin’s trend toward nuclear power, it’s only part of the story. Nuclear power is cheap and widely available, which experts say is at the heart of its appeal. Unlike many cloud and colocation data center operators, miners do not have to worry about the controversy around nuclear power’s safety driving away clients.
Also pushing the sudden growth of nuclear-powered data infrastructure: China’s crackdown on its cryptocurrency industry. At present, China is home to more than half of the world’s cryptocurrency mining, but that will soon change. The availability of nuclear energy is being dangled as a carrot to fleeing Chinese miners by both U.S. power companies and politicians like Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
“Miners want to get to a certain kilowatt price per hour, and so we’re working with them on that,” Suarez told CNBC, outlining his efforts to draw Chinese Bitcoin miners to the city. “The fact that we have nuclear power means that it’s very inexpensive power.”
Talen Energy’s Pennsylvania data campus reflects another growing trend: energy companies making direct investments in power-hungry data infrastructure like cryptocurrency mining. In New York, the operator of a hydroelectric plant near Albany announced this month that it would increase revenue by 300% by supplying Bitcoin mining operations instead of National Grid. The owners of the coal-fired Snubgrass Power Plant in Pennsylvania also announced plans to mine for cryptocurrency on-site.