A Winnipeg man is cashing in on digital currency in more ways than one.
Kevin Carthy has been using heat generated by computers, known as cryptocurrency miners, to keep his home and business warm during Manitoba’s cold winters.
It’s the province’s cold climate which has generated a lot of interest in recent months from people who want to set up larger scale cryptocurrency operations in Manitoba.
Carthy’s not only getting heat, the computers earn him a mining reward paid in digital currency every time his machines are involved in a cryptocurrency transaction.
“They are doing complex mathematical calculations looking for Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies and for doing that they generate a lot of heat because it’s a complex process,” said Carthy. “The fans are just cooling the circuit boards.”
Carthy owns several Bitcoin ATMs in Winnipeg and operates a cryptocurrency store in Transcona.
The miners at this store are kept in a utility room where the heat is recaptured and piped around the building through a furnace.
Like computers, the machines use electricity and cost money to keep running.
Carthy estimated each cryptocurrency miner costs him $70 each month in electricity charges, but he says each machine can pull in $100 worth of mining rewards.
“They also are actually still profitable as well,” said Carthy. “Even after you pay for your cost of heat there’s still a small profit leftover which in essence means you mine for heat and you still make a profit.”
“So the heat is the byproduct that ends up being free.”
It’s not known exactly how many people are using cryptocurrency miners as a heating source in the province, but Carthy said he’s not alone.
Manitoba well suited for large operations
Manitoba Hydro said in the past six months there’s been a lot of interest regarding the province as a potential location for large-scale cryptocurrency operations.
"We have had a number of inquiries,” said Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Scott Powell. “I think it's over a hundred inquiries from more industrial scale Bitcoin mining people looking for potential locations."
“They need a tremendous amount of electricity to run these and they generate a tremendous amount of waste heat. That’s one of the reasons that provinces like Manitoba and places like Quebec with our low energy costs and our colder climate really are ideally suited to that because they can pay less for their energy and the colder climate also reduces the amount of energy they’ve got to consume to cool those computers.”
Powell said there are a limited number of locations in the province where large mining operations could be located.
Larger scale mining operations outside of these areas would require significant power upgrades.
Powell said Manitoba Hydro is aware of some smaller cryptocurrency operations but they’re not having a major impact on the power system.
“The current demand on the Manitoba Hydro system for these operations is unnoticeable when taken in the context of overall system load.”
He said customers who want to run cryptocurrency miners have to be careful about how much power they use.
“A customer would need to ensure their electric service is adequate to serve the Bitcoin mining electrical load,” said Powell. “That will vary for each operation and also depends on existing Manitoba Hydro electric infrastructure.”
“Increasing the electrical load beyond what the local equipment is designed for could damage our system and cause a power outage. If a customer is found responsible for overloading the equipment, they would be responsible for paying for damages.”
Carthy said it takes between four and six machines to heat his store.
He still has natural gas heat as a backup.
At home, he uses a combination of natural gas and cryptocurrency miners.
Carthy said in the summer he doesn’t run the miners as often as he does during winter and when he does the heat generated is piped outside.
Used crypto miners can cost you up $2000, but newer ones go for more than that.