Bitcoin and Solar Power


The Oil Crisis

I remember the autumn of 1973. I leaned up against the back of the living room sofa and looked out the window at the line of cars going down the street to the Esso station that used to be there. The owners of the cars chatted, smoked, and listened to the radio while they waited to see if a rumored tanker truck would come and dole out some precious gas. This was the beginning of the OPEC oil crisis. On the nightly news, the persistent calls for America to end its dependence on fossil fuels began.

Flash forward to 2013, the music, cars, and fashion have all changed, but the need for fossil fuels

has done nothing but increase. “Energy independence” is a frequent campaign pledge for politicians, but little is done to achieve it.

The negative impact of our reliance on fossil fuels is everywhere to be seen: the emissions from fossil fuels are warming the planet and putting the lives of our children at risk; massive spills from ships, pipes, and drilling rigs have fouled our environment; the transportation of oil between nations by ship or pipe requires the US to maintain a huge military to protect its energy supply; military aid or military intervention is used to keep oil producing countries cooperative; a heavy-handed involvement in those countries causes resentment and creates a fertile breeding ground for terrorists, the poor-man’s revolutionary.

Even as we spend billions of dollars to build up and support a military to protect us from terrorists, pundits rarely mention that, because of our dependence on oil, we are sending massive amounts of money to the very countries producing those terrorists. Have we forgotten that Osama bin Laden was the child of a billionaire who could have hardly acquired his fortune were it not for a torrent of money flowing into Saudi Arabia from the West. Moreover, if it weren’t for that oil, it is likely that there wouldn’t have been any Western military presence in Saudi Arabia, his stated reason for hating the West.

At home, the money and power of the fossil fuel companies, and international corporations in general, have allowed them to capture the government. Campaign finance laws are now thinly veiled conduits for bribery. The revolving door between government service and industry means that the voice of regular people is rarely, if ever, heard. Laws and trade agreements are written to favor the corporations. The result is a falling standard of living, less freedom, and more conflict as people look for someone to blame. Because the corporations own or influence the media, too often, we blame the wrong people.

Way back in the 1970s, I remember all the talk about renewable energy and how it was going to free us from our dependence on oil. Somehow, that push toward energy independence through renewables got sidetracked into “drill, baby, drill.” It’s time to bring back the idea of renewables and make it a national priority.

The Path to Solar Energy

For anyone who thinks that solar power is an idea that just won’t work to solve our energy problems, I have one word: Germany. Germany, over the last few years, has dramatically increased their solar power production. They use a system of feed-in tariffs which guarantee that people can sell their excess power to the grid at an attractive rate, making installing solar panels a good choice for home owners. This northern, cloudy country is now producing the equivalent of several nuclear power plants’ worth of electricity via solar panels. Germany has set the goal of being 80% renewable by 2050.

If Germany can do it, there is no reason that the much sunnier US can do it as well. Detractors will say that solar power is not efficient or reliable enough. They will say that it cannot provide power at night or when the weather is badjust when we may need power the most.

These and other criticisms have a grain of truth. That’s not a reason to give up, though. There are real, imminent, dangerous problems that a switch to renewable energy would solve. And even if the problems are not as dangerous as they seem, as some contend, a switch would still make life better for our children. The question is not should we make the switch, but how do we overcome the forces that, for their own selfish reasons, oppose it.

In the early 1960s, John F. Kennedy, faced with a Soviet Union that had placed the first satellite, dog, and man in orbit, called for the US to put a man on the moon before the decade was out. He said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard” It is this same kind of determination and marshaling of resources that we need now. That, unfortunately, is not happening and not going to happen.

The Bitcoin/Solar Connection

Fortunately, we live in an era when it is possible for people to take control back and do it for themselves. This is the driving force behind Bitcointo take the control of money out of the hands of the bankers and return it to the people. Want to pay for something on the internet? Use Bitcoin. Want to move money across international borders? Use Bitcoin. Want to save money safely without the fees and small print of the banks? Use Bitcoin. Want to avoid inflation and save securely for retirement? Use Bitcoin.

Of course we are not all the way there yet. There are challenges and obstacles to making the advantages I outlined here as easy as I make them sound, but the infrastructure is being built by individuals working independently around the world. Momentum is being built.

Solar panels are to power generation as Bitcoin is to money. By putting solar panels up on as many houses and businesses as possible, we could severely reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and centralized power generation. Rather than paying out every month for electricity from a coal-fired plant, we could be getting paid by selling back into the grid for any excess power we generate. The savings and revenue will spur people to adopt solar, and as it becomes more common, more people will think that solar is the right and natural way to go. Momentum will be built.

One company that has seen the synergy between Bitcoin and solar power is which has been accepting Bitcoin since February of 2013. Supporting forward thinking companies like this is a way to support and grow Bitcoin and to help make for a better future for our children.

Do you have a tip, a business that you think should get some press, or want to provide a guest blog? Contact me at editor(@)

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  1. Two comments from Reddit that I thought were worth sharing:

    Karl-Frederick_Lenz writes:

    There are two possible angles linking Bitcoin and solar power.

    One is the fact that with more solar power in the mix, there will be many time slots where there is not enough demand to use all the supply, leading to negative prices (happens more frequently in Germany lately).

    Those time slots would be an excellent time to do some Bitcoin mining and get paid in Bitcoins as well as for kindly consuming electricity.

    The other point is that the future grid with much solar and wind will need to become much smarter. People will want to sell and buy electricity in a peer-to-peer grid. For that it will help if paying for small amounts of electricity can be handled in an efficient way. Bitcoin will come in handy when developing that smart grid.

    danielravennest responds:

    I’m working on developing self-expanding automated factories (// ). One of the example designs is a “distributed factory”, where each person owns one or a few machines, but they collaborate to build something. So it is not just electricity that can be paid for, but production in general, on a demand basis.

    “there will be many time slots where there is not enough demand to use all the supply”

    That’s just an artifact of looking at photovoltaic only. A proper mix of solar, wind, hydroelectric, and biofuel can balance the supply of each other, and solar consists of Photovoltaic, and solar thermal. The latter can supply storage in thermal beds, which you can extract later to run a generator. Solar thermal can also power any industrial process that just needs heat, directly, without making electricity, so it is more efficient.

    Biofuel, because of the long growth cycle, and storability, can bridge the gaps in solar and wind. Hydroelectric is storable too. Wind and PV tend to be somewhat complementary – weather fronts have higher winds, but are more cloudy. If your grid is physically large enough, the power production tends to average out.

    Unfortunately, most forum commentaries take a too simplistic view of how electric grids and power consumers actually work, so they reach wrong answers.

  2. Comment from Reddit

    confident_lemming wrote:

    This piece writes about an important connection. It could go one step farther, and address the stranglehold on energy distribution.

    It is illegal to sell power in the US, if you are not the approved monopoly. The history of this “natural monopoly” is rather sordid. Selling private power might be an area ripe for civil disobedience.

    Batteries and supercapacitors need additional improvements, to route around the currently-censored grid. Biofuel has high energy density and is doable today, but the solar connection requires either intensive recycling or farming and distilling, so there are few producers. We still have a technology infrastructure problem.

    baltakatei wrote:

    What methods are available to convert electricity from wind/hydroelectric/solar sources into liquid hydrocarbon? Using wind/solar/hydroelectric power sources to reduce the carbon in CO2 into hydrocarbon is something I’ve wanted to see progress on for a while now. From what I understand of microbiology, bacteria have all the cellular machinery to perform all the steps required to use electrical current to reduce CO2 into hydrocarbon. It’s just a matter of creating natural selection pressure that increases the conversion efficiency. How do you trigger bacteria to delay reproduction in favor of reducing CO2 into hydrocarbon? Might it be easier to just batch-grow bunch of bacteria with the proteins necessary for the CO2-conversion and then fix the proteins onto a surface within a controlled reactor?

    edit: I like the idea of decentralizing power-production. Traditional nuclear power is on the far centralized end of the spectrum with solar panels and algae bags on the far decentralized end of the spectrum. But now that I’m thinking about it, technologies that enable decentralized power distribution (electricity -> biofuel) will also probably increase the versatility of traditional centralized methods. I imagine a nuclear power plant with a hydrocarbon-production unit using fission-derived power might be a viable way to mass-produce liquid fuel when fossil fuels run out (and thus centralize liquid fuels at a higher efficiency than a decentralized method).

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