Steven Seagal and DJ Khaled have taught us that if a celebrity endorses a cryptocurrency project, you should immediately assume it might be a scam. But William Shatner seems to be backing a pretty interesting crypto-mining initiative.
The actor who's best known for playing Captain Kirk and giving odd line-readings didn't intend to become the latest B-list celebrity to pull a cashgrab from the bitcoin boom. Shatner has made environmentalism one of his pet causes for quite some time, and he's been working as the pitchman for Solar Alliance, a Canadian solar power company. This week, the company announced a new plan to build a solar-powered facility in Illinois that will be used for mining cryptocurrencies.
In 2014, Shatner tweeted, "So bit coin is cyber snob currency." His views since then have apparently evolved. "You have to blank your mind and say, 'What is blockchain, again,'" he told the Chicago Tribune. "The concepts are really strange, and yet when you begin to grasp it, it makes sense."
The blockchain is a decentralised platform for permanently recording and verifying transactions. As long as users run nodes in a blockchain system, the records will be there, and in cases like bitcoin, it's totally open for the public to see.
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies require computers all around the world to compete to be the first to guess the answer of a complicated equation in order to "mine" new bitcoins. The resulting unit of cryptocurrency is the reward for all these systems verifying the transactions in the ledger and keeping the whole system up to date.
But it takes a lot of energy to mine those coins. A recent study found that mining one bitcoin requires the same amount of electricity as the average US household uses over the course of two years.
Solar Alliance is looking to provide a solution to that very real problem. This week it announced that it bought a 15,300m2 warehouse in Murphysboro, Illinois that it will power with a mix of traditional grid and solar energy. Once the facility is ready, the company will rent space out for the huge servers that crypto-miners use to make bank.
Because it takes so much energy to mine cryptocurrencies and competition is so tough, the professionals have been causing a lot of headaches seeking out places with the lowest energy costs. It's become a problem in places such as East Wenatchee, Washington and Plattsburgh, New York, where mining companies have moved in, used up the finite energy resources, and driven up costs for locals. But in Solar Alliance's case, it was actually invited to Murphysboro by its mayor, Will Stephens.
The space has been vacant since 2004, and Illinois has a program that requires utility companies to buy renewable energy. Stephens saw an opportunity to offer Solar Alliance a cheap space with subsidised grid power, and maybe bring in some jobs.
While bitcoin mining facilities don't really require that many employees to maintain and the whole industry is fairly precarious, Stephens told the Tribune that, if nothing else, "we're going to have someone who will occupy a previously derelict property, and whatever development comes out of it will just make it more marketable if the project is not successful".
In its announcement, Solar Alliance said that it has entered into an agreement with an unidentified solar panel manufacturer to work together on the development of more solar-powered mining facilities. The manufacturer will be named and more details will be provided when the agreement is legally finalised.
The bad news is that miners need more energy than Solar Alliance is planning to provide from the sun. It's building a 3-megawatt solar array that will complement the electricity coming from the grid. John Stoll, managing director of a utility provider near Seattle, told The Washington Post, "These miners are coming in and are asking for 20, 50, or 100 megawatts, which is a very large power request." So, yeah, we have a long way to go before bitcoin is anywhere close to green.
For Shatner, the checks cash the same whether we're saved from crypto-climate change or not.