Bitcoin Mining in Electric Vehicles Raises Other Questions

Some creative Tesla owners came up with a way to make a few bucks from their parked EVs: Cryptocurrency mining. This raises questions that shouldn’t just be aimed at bitcoin mining, or even electric vehicles.

For those unfamiliar, cryptocurrencies only work because there is a network of distributed computing that processes the transactions. To reward those offering the computing power, cryptocurrencies give fractions of new bitcoins to those who did the work of running the network. This is referred to as “mining” bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies. This was an expensive and power-hungry task that could wear out computer components much faster than usual.

Initially, many doing this used high-end graphics processing units, but as the money earned per device diminished, miners turned to specialized computer units, called ASICs, to do the task faster with less electricity. But the units are still not free and they still can use kilowatts of electricity for a handful of them. To reduce the overall cost of running mining computers, some miners put the computers throughout their homes to act as small space heaters and reduce their heating bill. Others run their rigs on solar panels to avoid a monthly power cost.

Any source of electricity you don’t have to pay the normal rate for, or that you don’t have to pay for at all, is an opportunity for miners to increase their already thin profits. Teslas and other EVs have free access to power at many charging stations, so it was probably only a matter of time until somebody decided to plug their mining computers in.

One member of the Tesla Owners Worldwide on Facebook suggested the idea, possibly in jest. Then another owner went ahead and did it, posting a photo of his setup. Some members suggested that his setup could pull as much as 3 kilowatts of power and would probably require the vehicle’s air conditioning to be on for cooling. Other members raised ethical questions. Is it stealing to use the power for something other than driving?

On the one hand, this could be a good way to offset the cost of owning an electric vehicle. On the other hand, it lowers the efficiency of the vehicle and increases the environmental impact. But then again, the mining was going to be done somewhere anyway, so does it really? Will many EV owners do this? Will they do it at places they were going to charge anyway, or will there be opportunistic fleets of EVs blocking up charging stations to make a quick buck? How will charging station owners respond?

But really, these questions shouldn’t just be aimed at bitcoin mining. Computing power is going to be in higher and higher demand going forward. Self-driving cars are already running on graphics processing units like bitcoin miners once all used. Infotainment systems are getting more and more powerful, and that power needs to come from somewhere. Mobile devices used by passengers are going to need more and more power to charge. Even beyond that, there are “V2H” systems that can run a house on an electric vehicle’s battery, and that goes far beyond the tiny bit of power needed to run a few mining computers.

And these questions shouldn’t just be applied to electric vehicles. Many of these power strains will apply to hybrid, regular gas and regular diesel vehicles. Alternators, the parts that charge most car’s 12v batteries, are already a big part of the car’s fuel consumption. Ecomodding hobbyists have gained as much as 15% fuel efficiency by removing them, and that amount is only going to grow as more demand is placed on it. Some companies are suggesting waste heat recovery to generate the electricity needed for the future.

When we look at these wider power issues, it becomes clear that bitcoin mining is just a drop in the bucket. Even if a large number of EV owners did it, it would still be nothing compared to the other computing future cars will eventually be doing. Where that power is going to come from is a good question we shouldn’t just be aiming at the odd bitcoin miner.

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10 thoughts on “Bitcoin Mining in Electric Vehicles Raises Other Questions

  1. That’s 4 GPU mining rigs, without their GPUs. You can’t mine bitcoin on those. You can’t mine anything on them without thousands of dollars worth of delicate GPUs first actually.

    Powering them off the 350v DC traction battery wouldn’t work. You’d have to splice into the 220v AC coming into the car and…nevermind. It was someone’s idea of a joke. Not easy to do, when someone finally tries to do it for real.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hm, I mean — 350v DC actually sounds pretty ideal. 240V AC gets rectified inside of a PSU to DC. 240V * sqrt(2) = ~339V… So I’d imagine a normal PC power supply would run really well form a 350V DC supply.

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    2. The Tesla has a dc/dc converter
      From the 400 volt battery to a normal lead Avid battery 12 volts
      Guess what voltage a pc rund on
      You guessed it 12 volt

      It’s not that unusual of a setup

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  2. “… and increases the environmental impact. But then again, the mining was going to be done somewhere anyway, so does it really?”

    This assumes that mining on an EV will reduce mining elsewhere. It doesn’t, mining happening elsewhere will happen no matter if you mine on an EV or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think the article is overstating the power consumption of in-car electronics in the last few paragraphs. Yes, things like large screens, infotainment, etc use power but the processors used keep getting more efficient at power usage – just look at the TDP of current Intel processors vs those of 10 years ago. Plus these devices are better at reducing power consumption when their load is low as technologies employed for mobile devices can also be used in all CPUs.

    And in general I am guessing that vehicle accessories use WAY less power than they did a decade ago by moving to more efficient components like LED lighting throughout the vehicle, including headlights, vs incandescent.

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    1. You’re absolutely right about those things. I was just trying to put mining in perspective and point out that car computing is a growing trend. The thing that really puts any possible mining to shame is going to be the V2H and V2G systems, though.

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  4. But the interesting thing that you do point out is the arbitraging of free electricity for EVs via chargers, especially Tesla’s Superchargers. This is something ripe for abuse in the future. There has been talk of using EV batteries as a grid energy storage solution – so charge your Tesla for free at a Supercharger and then go home and sell that energy back into the grid!

    IMHO free charging at workplaces is a bad idea. It incents EV owners to charge at work during the day, adding to peak demand on the grid and socializes the cost of the electricity. It makes more sense to have the EV owner charge at night at home and pay for the electricity her/his self. Have chargers at workplaces but at least have a nominal charge for them. I own a Tesla and I use free Level 2 chargers at times even thought I don’t really need the charging, because (a) why not take something that is being given to you for free, and (b) it generally means you get a prime parking spot on Level 1 rather than having to schlep down to Level 5.

    Full disclosure – I have a 2014 Model S so I get free Supercharging for life.

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    1. Good point. However, the increased availability of solar on grids during the day may be a counterpoint when it comes to workplace charging. It’s hard to say whether it’s a good or bad thing. Good arguments either way.

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  5. As an experiment, maybe it’s good to give some advantages (price breaks in this case) to those developing new and more efficient means of transportation, but at some point, the actual cost of operation has to be borne by the operators. EVs already get a ‘free ride’ because they don’t pay for the upkeep of roads via gasoline taxes. The use of subsidized electricity for other than the purposes of EV development and adoption is unethical at best, and illegal at worst.
    Show me your analysis of EV operating costs per mile when existing subsidies are removed, and realistic use taxes (gas tax equivalents) are factored in.

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