In an Alberta city used to the boom and bust of the gas industry, a new "Mine" just opened up and no one seems to know about it. In a push to diversify its economy from the energy industry, the City of Medicine Hat, known for its natural gas reserves, recently became known for a different sort of boom: the kind that creates Bitcoin. The Hut 8 Bitcoin Mine sits on the outskirts of Medicine Hat and looks like a ﬁeld of landlocked shipping containers arranged in neat rows, each giving off a buzzing noise that requires earplugs up close. It’s the relentless sound of thousands of tiny fans cooling thousands of small computers, expelling air so warm it can make the space between boxes shimmer like air near the engine of a plane. Hut 8 Mining and its partner Bitfury opened the mine earlier this year; it’s the largest operation of its kind in Canada and their second site in Alberta—the other is in Drumheller.
The mine consumes roughly 63 megawatts of electricity at any given time—the red and green lights on each server blink non-stop—which on a cool day in October is nearly as much as the entire city of Medicine Hat, population 63,000.
Crypto-currencies like Bitcoin rely on mining to secure transactions. “Mining” in this context does not mean digging for minerals, but using computers to add groups of Bitcoin transaction records, known as blocks, to a ledger shared by computers around the world, or a blockchain. The machines race to secure each block by identifying a digital fingerprint of the data in it. Mining has moved from small garages with a few computers to large-scale enterprises, and the people who do this work, in accordance with the vision of Bitcoin’s unknown founder, are rewarded with 12.5 newly created Bitcoins for each block secured.
Alberta offered Hut 8 ideal conditions: cold weather (which provides protection against the computers overheating) and cheap electricity. So far, the company says it’s mined more than 3,500 Bitcoins in the province; the currency’s value fluctuates daily, but at the time of this writing, one Bitcoin was worth nearly $8,202.
Hut 8’s 4.5-hectare farm is powered by Medicine Hat’s grid, which is largely powered by natural gas, on a 10-year contract. The city does has the right to limit the mine’s energy usage during summer heat waves.
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