US electric power utility Ameren Missouri says it uses Bitcoin (BTC) mining as an efficient measure to balance electricity supply, contrasting with how mining is often perceived by various critics across the world.
The company’s executives say they consider their crypto-focused initiative as principally research and development, hoping to match electricity demand and supply as more renewable energy continues to come online.
An increased use of BTC mining by utilities for grid balancing could help mend Bitcoin’s reputation as a fossil fuel-hungry asset that boosts the world’s carbon footprint, a factor that triggered the crypto’s selloffs earlier this year.
Warren Wood, Vice president of regulatory and legislative affairs at Ameren Missouri, told E&E News that the process could be compared to using cruise control on the highway versus driving in dense city traffic.
“We have pretty dramatic changes in load minute by minute, second by second at times,” Wood said. “We need something that’s really got quick, ramping up and down capability to be a really effective tool for grid balancing.”
Ameren Missouri started to mine crypto last April. When the state’s demand for energy is low and electricity is relatively inexpensive, computers that sit inside a metal container at the company’s Portage Des Sioux coal-fired plant mine Bitcoin.
With some 1.2m customers, the company is the state’s largest utility. Ameren initially aimed to include USD 8,000 in electricity costs for 309,000 kilowatt-hours of energy usage related to BTC mining into its fuel costs recovery formula. However, it withdrew its request after Missouri’s consumer advocate questioned the plan.
“If Ameren Missouri wants to enter into speculative commodities, like virtual currencies, then it should do so as a non-regulated service where ratepayers are unexposed to the economics of them,” said Geoff Marke, Chief economist for the Missouri Office of the Public Counsel, adding that the endeavor was “beyond the scope of intended electric utility regulation”.
Meanwhile, the utility says its mining operations at the Sioux plant currently consume just 0.5 MW, and can ramp up within a minute and back down within 20 seconds depending on the existing grid conditions.
“We’re talking a minute or less to be on or off,” Wood said. “You really have a good mechanism for trying to seek that better balance of the grid between your generation resources and load.”