Following Beijing’s crackdown on energy-sapping Bitcoin (BTC) mining, Guizhou province has become the country’s first to make use of its freed-up power capacity to advance a climate-conscious agenda.
The hydroelectric-rich southern province has recently announced a plan to build at least 4,500 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in 2021. This will ramp up to 5,000 in 2022 and 5,500 the following year.
As the South China Morning Post reported, Beijing’s pressure on Bitcoin miners has freed up over 50 terawatt-hours of electricity — enough to sustain an industrialized city with a population of 1 million for 33 years or to fulfill the charging needs of 10 million Tesla Model 3s a year.
On the global stage, China has been an early and decisive mover against crypto mining, forcing pools that had once profited from cheap, surfeit power to close up shop and relocate overseas. Provincial authorities in Guizhou are now seizing upon that surfeit to incentivize the region’s 38 million residents to adapt their habits in line with Beijing’s decarbonization commitments. Cao Hua, a partner at the private equity firm Unity Asset Management, told reporters that Guizhou’s EV plan is “a double dose of good news for China’s economy”:
“Cracking down on power-consuming Bitcoin mines and using the excess capacity to support development of the future of mobility is the best example of how China endeavours to reach its carbon neutrality goal.”
Guizhou, one of the country’s lowest per-capita income levels, aims to have installed 38,000 EV charging stations by 2023, with at least one in each town and 20% of car park bays at shopping malls reserved for EV charging points. Both local residents and manufacturers have told the South China Morning Post that they expect provincial authorities to offer incentives and consumer discounts to bolster uptake.
Upstream in the production line, one local EV battery supplier said that the industry is already taking its cue from the new agenda. “We are considering to branch out to those areas because they may roll out more incentives to lure companies making products complying with their environmental policies,” he said.
On a nationwide level, China has reportedly increased its number of public and privately owned EV charging stations by over 47% in the past year. Yet the vast majority of the infrastructure remains concentrated in the most affluent cities and regions. The SCMP’s report has claimed that the switch in capacity usage in former Bitcoin mining centers — among them, Qinghai, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Yunnan and Sichuan — could be a “game-changer” for the country’s drive to popularize EVs.
Extending charging stations to rural and underdeveloped areas presents a significant challenge and is needed to fend off prospective EV drivers’ “range anxiety” — i.e., how far they can travel without hitting a dead-end in terms of battery life. The pivot to EVs thus demands a coordinated effort from provincial governments, carmakers and battery manufacturers to sufficiently ramp up investment and production levels at scale. At present, Beijing is aiming for three in five vehicles in the country to be powered by non-fossil fuels by 2030, as compared with the United States’ 50% target.
Aside from climate grounds, several governments worldwide have toughened their stance on Bitcoin mining this year, citing concerns over its impact on local energy provision. In late April, a former Kyrgyz government official argued that crypto mining was a major driver of the country’s energy crisis. Licensed Iranian miners have been banned from operating in the country until September in a bid to conserve power during the summer months.