Hydropower for Bitcoin Mining: Evaluating Sustainability and Environmental Implications

Published on 03 June 2023 by masternode.one in Research

hydropower for bitcoin mining

Sustainable energy series, pt. 3


As the environmental impact of traditional energy sources becomes more apparent, the search for sustainable alternatives has intensified. Therefore, we want to welcome you to part three of our sustainable energy for bitcoin mining series! The first two articles covered geothermal energy, and wind and solar energy as potential power sources for miners. 

In this article, we will shed a light on the potential that hydropower has as a sustainable energy source. We will start with a brief description of what hydropower is and how it is being generated, followed by an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages, including some of the common environmental and social impacts associated with hydropower. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of the role that hydropower can play in the transition to sustainable energy and whether it is a viable option for powering bitcoin mining operations.

About hydropower

What is hydropower

Hydropower is a renewable energy source that harnesses the kinetic energy of falling water to generate electricity. This energy source can be found in various forms, including rivers, lakes, and ocean tides. Hydropower is generated through the use of turbines that are driven by the force of falling water. These turbines are typically located in dams or other structures that control the flow of water. As water flows through the turbines, the blades spin, which generates mechanical energy that is converted into electrical energy by a generator. Hydropower is a well-established technology that mankind has been using for centuries to power mechanical devices such as mills and saws. These days, it is being used on a larger scale to generate electricity for homes and industries.

Is hydropower sustainable?

Hydropower is generally considered a sustainable source of energy as it is based on the natural water cycle and does not deplete finite resources, like fossil fuels. The use of hydropower also does not produce any direct greenhouse gas emissions, and thus does not contribute to global warming or the degradation of the environment through climate change. Additionally, hydropower provides reliable and flexible energy, as the flow of water can be controlled to match energy demand. 

However, the construction of hydropower facilities can have severe environmental impacts, such as habitat destruction and fragmentation, alteration of river flows, and impacts on fish and wildlife populations. It is important to carefully consider the potential impacts of hydropower development and use appropriate mitigation measures to minimize these impacts.

The potential of hydropower for bitcoin mining

As a sustainable source of energy, hydropower has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of bitcoin mining operations. However, there are both advantages and disadvantages to using hydropower for bitcoin mining, which we will discuss in the following paragraphs.

Advantages of hydropower


Hydropower is a renewable energy source that harnesses the power of flowing water, such as rivers or dams, to generate electricity. Unlike fossil fuels, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, hydropower is clean and sustainable. By using hydropower for bitcoin mining, the environmental impact can be significantly reduced compared to using fossil fuel-based power sources. 

Moreover, the water in a hydropower plant is not consumed and thus remains available for other uses besides generating electricity.


Though the initial costs of constructing a hydropower plant can be quite high, the operating costs afterwards, once the infrastructure is in place, are relatively low, because the continuous flow of water provides the energy, eliminating the need for buying fuel. This can make hydropower a financially attractive option for Bitcoin miners, especially in regions with abundant water resources.

Stable and reliable

Hydropower plants generally offer a stable and reliable power supply. As long as water flow remains consistent, the generation of electricity is reliable and not subject to fluctuations like other renewable sources such as solar or wind power. This stability is crucial for Bitcoin mining, as uninterrupted power supply is necessary for efficient mining operations. However, it should be noted that the changing global climate is likely to alter the water supply in many regions on earth, which could have consequences for hydropower facilities as well. 


Hydropower plants can be designed to accommodate a wide range of power needs, making them highly scalable. Bitcoin mining operations often require substantial electricity consumption, and hydropower facilities can be built or expanded to meet these demands. As the demand for mining increases, additional turbines or generators can be installed to scale up the power production capacity.

Long term energy source

Hydropower projects typically have long lifespans, often spanning several decades. This long-term viability makes them attractive for Bitcoin mining, which can be a long-term endeavor. By investing in hydropower infrastructure, miners can secure a consistent and sustainable energy source for their operations, reducing the risk of energy supply disruptions or price volatility associated with other energy sources.

Disadvantages of hydropower

Due to the wide array of advantages, hydropower might appear as a very attractive source of power for bitcoin mining operations. However, the construction and operation of hydropower installations are associated with significant impacts in both the environmental and social dimensions. 

The environmental impacts of hydropower

Hydropower projects are notorious for their severe impacts on the environment. The construction of dams and reservoirs completely disrupts ecosystems. These impacts are not limited to the river themselves, but expand into associated ecosystems as well. A well-known example is the obstacle that dams form for migrating fish species such as salmon, who migrate from upstream to the sea in their early stages of life, and back from the ocean to their upstream birth place later in life. A dam can form an insurmountable barrier for them, disrupting their migration and, consequently, their reproduction. Since migrating salmon are a major source of food for many other species, such as bears, a disruption of their migration pattern also impacts those ecosystems. Additionally, the impacts on fish populations can eventually lead to issues for local communities too, if they rely on fishing for their livelihoods. 

Furthermore, hydropower dams and reservoirs alter the water flow downstream, which can lead to loss of habitat for wildlife. 

Dams can also cause an increase in sedimentation; the accumulation of particles, such as sand, silt, and debris, on the river bed. This does not only decrease the storage capacity of reservoirs and thus the amount of power that is being generated, it also reduces the sediment downstream of a dam. Flooding of sediment-rich water can provide important nutrients to the lands adjacent to the river, so a decrease in sediment might have consequences for the fertility of soils too, which could negatively impact ecosystems and agriculture. 

Overall, hydropower projects often disrupt the functioning of complete ecosystems. Before construction of a hydropower project, extensive research should be done in order to examine the potential impacts on the river ecosystem, and measures should be taken to mitigate these consequences. However, with the quality of nature degrading worldwide, it is best that further harm to ecosystems is avoided at all costs, making hydropower quite an unfavorable source of energy. 

Social and cultural impacts

In addition to the environmental impacts, the construction of hydropower plants often has significant social impacts too. Reservoirs can submerge villages, farmland, and important cultural sites, causing social disruptions and affecting the livelihoods of local communities. Adequate compensation, resettlement, and community engagement measures are necessary to mitigate these social impacts, but no amount of money or compensation of another form can compensate for the loss of one’s home. The forced displacement of people from their homes for the construction of a reservoir is also not something that aligns with the ideology of freedom behind decentralized currency. 

Uncertain impacts of climate change on hydrology

The driving force behind the availability of water in any place is climate, specifically the radiation from the sun. Water, mainly from the seas and oceans, evaporates under the influence of heat from the sun, which leads to the formation of clouds. Due to differences in air pressure at different latitudes, these clouds drift to other places (and this movement of air can be felt as wind). Clouds then produce precipitation, usually in the form of rain or snow, which is partly taken up by vegetation, and the other part ends up in rivers to eventually flow back to the seas. 

Due to climate change, atmospheric conditions and sea surface temperature changes, influencing the evaporation of water and consequently altering weather patterns. Therefore, water supply for hydropower might change due to climate change, which in turn affects water derived electricity. In some areas, water supply could increase, while in others it might decrease. There are multiple climate change projections and predictions, but the exact consequences for hydropower remain uncertain.

Geographical limitations

Since hydropower requires a certain amount of moving water, not every region on earth is suitable for this type of technology. Very flat countries, or countries that do not have a lot of (big) rivers, are unlikely places for a hydropower facility. However, the locations suitable for hydropower are not as limited as those for geothermal energy. 


Hydropower can function as a sustainable energy source for bitcoin mining, but it is not without its challenges. The advantages of hydropower, such as its renewable and emission-free nature, cost-efficiency, stable power supply, scalability, and long-term viability, make it an attractive option for reducing the carbon footprint of mining operations. Its ability to harness the power of flowing water provides a reliable source of energy for uninterrupted mining.

However, the environmental impacts associated with hydropower cannot be ignored. The construction of dams and reservoirs disrupts ecosystems, alters river flows, and affects fish and wildlife populations. Sedimentation and changes in water quality can further impact downstream environments. Additionally, social impacts arise from the displacement of communities and loss of cultural sites. Careful environmental assessments and mitigation measures are necessary to minimize these negative consequences.

The decision to utilize hydropower should be made in conjunction with considerations of local ecosystems, communities, and the overall goals of sustainable development, but given the severe negative impacts on ecosystems and communities, hydropower probably is not the best sustainable energy source for bitcoin mining.

Further reading / sources

  • Kaunda, C. S., Kimambo, C. Z., & Nielsen, T. K. (2012). Hydropower in the context of sustainable energy supply: a review of technologies and challenges. International Scholarly Research Notices, 2012. https://downloads.hindawi.com/archive/2012/730631.pdf
  • Lally, N., Kay, K., & Thatcher, J. (2022). Computational parasites and hydropower: A political ecology of Bitcoin mining on the Columbia River. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 5(1), 18-38. https://doi.org/10.1177/2514848619867608