A Case Study
All design work - Makoto Shibuya
Bitcoin introduces a market-based economic incentive for net-positive energy projects, which in addition to reducing CO2 emissions, could help offset the embodied carbon of our infrastructure over time.
In 1945, the Case Study House Program was commissioned to help reimagine housing after World War II. While some of the projects were never built, it was an essential and influential contribution to the modern architecture movement. Today, we face a different challenge—we know buildings collectively contribute about 40% of global CO2 emissions.
Zero is a case study to explore new opportunities around renewable energy infrastructure and PoW (Proof of Work) blockchain technologies like Bitcoin. The ultimate goal is accelerating net-zero carbon projects through renewable energy technology, material selection, and carbon removal strategies.
On its face, the energy consumption of a 'proof of work' system like Bitcoin may seem like an inherent problem, but complex issues require looking at the entire system. Bitcoin mining could, in fact, be part of the solution to a sustainable future by improving the economics of renewable energy infrastructure and fixing misallocated resources. For a deeper dive into this energy opportunity, I have been collecting my thoughts on how blockchain technology could transcend our monetary system and reshape our energy infrastructure in a blog post here.
In summary, the problem with energy has never been about scarcity but rather intermittency, storage, and distribution. For the first time in history, energy has a buyer of last resort—bitcoin mining—that can take stranded or surplus energy from anywhere and convert it into a global digital asset. Mining bitcoin introduces a perpetual appetite for stranded, or surplus, energy which can augment traditional net metering and energy storage. Mining makes it possible to monetize the buildout and operation of a solar system from day one rather than waiting for permits to sell back to the grid which can often take months. It is another valuable tool that is geographically independent. This new demand acts as a continuous inducement for renewable energy and further innovation in energy infrastructure.
Combining solar panels with batteries enables people to be their own utility. Mining could add another tool to help balance their renewable energy economics. This additional utility lets people, campuses, and cities design a solar system that will meet all of their power needs without the risk of overbuilding. Traditionally, this has been uneconomical because the system needed to be designed for peak loads. This ability to economically "overbuild" should, in turn, continue to improve the economics of renewable energy infrastructure.
While it is important to keep in mind Square and ARKInvest have a vested interest in Bitcoin, they have published an open-source model showing how this opportunity could pencil out here.
Below is a diagram showing how mining bitcoin could complement energy storage and net metering. The heat generated by the mining hardware is then used to pre-heat domestic water used around the house.
The waste heat (a by-product of mining bitcoin) is used to pre-heat domestic water around the house. In the winter, it is also used as radiant heat for the floor.
"Capturing just one hour of the sunshine that hits our planet would enable us to meet the world's food and energy needs for an entire year, and each year the sun radiates more energy onto the earth than has been used in the whole of human history."
—The Solar Revolution
The roof is designed to cut off the sun angle in the summer and allow it to seep in during the winter. In the summer, this helps control the temperature from overheating. In the winter, the sun is allowed to heat the floor and radiate heat throughout the space over the course of the night. Adjustable sliding shades provide another level of local sun control.
Rainwater is collected into a water feature and stored in an underground water cistern. In the summer, as this water evaporates, it pre-cools the air before entering the building. Combining this with strategically located operable windows allows cool air to cross-ventilate through the residence, saving energy on air conditioning.
The Power of an Image
After World War II, the original Case Study Houses appeared in the Arts & Architecture magazine in iconic black and white photographs. These photographs spread California's mid-century architecture around the world and were influential to the modern architecture movement. In a similar spirit, I have created several images capturing project Zero to help paint a vision. It is not yet a complete picture—it is merely a case study to test ideas. Admittedly, there are details to work out and improvements to be made. However, the intention is to have an ongoing process to test ideas in hopes of a sustainable future.