Bitcoin Project Leads Wired’s Lisa Barnard to Explore Genesis Mining Facility in Iceland

  • Lisa Barnard visited the Enigma facility, which was established in 2014.
  • Along with Enigma, Barnard visited the Svartsengi geothermal power station.

The cryptocurrency industry relies on mining to keep the blockchain going. These miners validate transactions with complex and complicated calculations, allowing each transaction to be added to the public record on the blockchain. In this process, the electricity to validate the transactions is substantial, and the facilities of Genesis Mining focuses on these processes. Lisa Barnard of Wired recently visited the facility as part of her project called Bitcoin.

Genesis Mining is located about two miles away from the Reykjavik airport in Iceland, including hundreds of thousands of fans to keep the machines from overheating. The facility is called Enigma, established in 2014, and Barnard commented that this facility is the loudest one she’s visited by far. Her first visit was two years ago as she was working on her Bitcoin project.

On the original visit, she stated,

“The biggest thing I remember was just the noise and the flashing lights and wiring. It was like being inside a computer.”

This massive facility is located away from the tourist-ridden area of the country, but it is still just as integrated into the unique landscape as the waterfalls and geyser. Hydroelectric dams and geothermal power stations take advantage of the underground heat and plentiful water in the area to help with the cheap and green electricity that reduces cost and uses renewable resources.

Cryptocurrency companies originally started moving to Iceland soon after the creation of Bitcoin at the start of 2009. The large data centers became so widespread in Iceland that, by 2016, they accounted for 1% of the GDP, and 90% of those data centers were for cryptocurrency mining operations. Presently, these operations take up more electricity than every home in Iceland combined, running up a bill of $1 million per month. Regardless of the green energy used, the miners still are unable to use the resources without changing the landscape, as the electricity demand requires additional dams and power stations. However, adding these facilities would create a major difference in the sensitive environment of Iceland.

Barnard became interested with the situation in Iceland as these circumstances have arisen. While working on her new book, titled The Canary and the Hammer, she became interested in cryptocurrencies, since it isn’t controlled by a central bank like fiat currency is. Eventually, she moved on from Japan-based Bitcoin meetups to these Iceland data centers.

She stated,

“I was interested in this idea of it being an equitable currency and yet it has the potential to be very destructive as far as the land is concerned.”

Following her photograph of Enigma, she went to see the Svartsengi geothermal power station, providing electricity to crypto miners. It is also known for the water it brings to the Blue Lagoon. She called the connection with the earth in this view “both terrifying and beautiful at the same time.”

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