Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis

Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis
Mining rigs at a gaming-turned-mining-lounge in Beirut. (Arab News/Maysaa Ajjan)
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Updated 31 July 2021

Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis

Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis
  • GPUs now mine $1-$5 of bitcoin every 4 hours vs. $10-$20 before power crisis
  • Mining rigs now powered by diesel

BEIRUT: Lebanese crypto miners are in trouble. Lebanon has plunged into near total darkness because of its recent electricity shortage crisis, leaving mining machines suspended mid-way in their operations and their owners writhing over their financial losses.

In the last two years, a growing number of Lebanese youths have turned to trading and mining cryptocurrency in a desperate attempt to gain financial freedom and secure the much-needed remittances of USD cash. This movement was spurred by distrust of the Lebanese banking sector, which has all but swallowed up people’s life savings.

Today, the electricity crisis constitutes a thorny problem for crypto miners who have invested a fortune in buying mining machines that were supposed to function 24/7, mining as many cryptocurrencies as possible.

“Before the electricity crisis, each GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) used to mine $10-$20 worth of bitcoin every four hours,” 34-year-old electrician Alaa Ayash, who is the co-owner of a gaming-turned-mining lounge in Mar Elias, Beirut, told Arab News. “Now they mine about $1-$5, almost a quarter of what they used to.”

What exactly happens when a mining machine is turned off due to an electricity shortage?

Put simply, mining is the process of getting rewarded for solving complex computational math problems with chosen cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. The miners are actually being rewarded for completing a secure transaction using the blockchain. There is value to solving these problems because otherwise, there would be no way to securely exchange bitcoins. The transaction, however, stops when the electricity is cut off and there is a huge chance that the miners will not be rewarded with their bitcoins.

How are miners in Lebanon dealing with the electricity shortage?

Their first option is to rely on generators that run on diesel. These generators are effective in supplying the GPUs with electricity- until the diesel runs out, another thorny problem.

This comes after Lebanon has recently agreed to partially lift government subsidies on all kinds of fuel in a bid to ease their shortage. This also meant a significant increase in cost to the consumers who can no longer obtain fuel at the official exchange rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, but instead must resort to the black market and bargain with fuel importers.

“One gallon of diesel used to cost around 30,000 Lebanese pounds,” said Ali Mortada, a Syrian janitor who is responsible for securing diesel to the building he works for. “Now it costs somewhere between 100,000 pounds and 150,000 pounds in the black market, if not more.”

“We used to pay 1,000,000 pounds monthly for the generator for our gaming lounge, with 12 GPUs included,” Ayash said. “Now we pay 3,000,000 pounds, sometimes more, because diesel is so expensive.”

Another issue that cannot be overlooked is the fact that crypto-mining is an overwhelmingly energy-hungry process that often consumes much more electricity than a generator can cover. In May, Iran blamed major power outages on illegal bitcoin mining and banned the latter after it was confirmed that 4.5 percent of all bitcoin mining this year has taken place in the Persian country. One wonders if Lebanese miners would share a similar fate.

Are there any substitutes for diesel when the fuel runs out?

There are two substitutes: UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) and computer batteries. The former device allows a computer to keep running for a short time when its primary power source is lost while providing protection from power surges. Meanwhile the batteries supply energy for two-to-three hours. Both devices can be purchased from local and international manufacturers (mainly China), but because of skyrocketing demand on behalf of crypto miners and dealers, they are constantly in short supply.

“Demand for UPS and batteries have certainly soared at our company,” said an employee who works at a Lebanese hardware manufacturing company. The employee wished to remain anonymous.

“We used to have orders of about three containers of UPSs per week, and now our orders are up to 12 containers a week. We can’t keep up with all that supply.” The employee added that she was worried that very high demand may translate to an increase in hardware prices, as was the case with GPUs in the last two years.

“Customers used to be able to import GPUs from the US for $300 in 2019. Now the prices are bordering $1,200 per GPU,” she said. “Everything is getting more expensive for mining. I wonder if it’s worth it.”

Indeed, if one were to add up the many costs of mining mentioned in this article and compare them to the meager income of $5 every four hours (as mentioned above), the numbers certainly don’t add up.

“I wish I wasn’t so hasty in my insistence to risk everything I have and give mining a shot,” said 28-year-old Sary Mohsen. Mohsen had sold two iPhones in order to buy two GPUs. “I joined a mining pool three months ago, right before bitcoin crashed, and things have been downhill ever since.”

Indeed, bitcoin’s decline in the past few months saw its value more than halve since its April peak of $63,745, falling below $30,000 on July 21. Bitcoin has since rebounded and was trading at $41,695 on July 31.

Another source of worry for miners who want to cash out but fear they will be missing out if bitcoin’s value rises again.

“I’m glad I cashed out my bitcoin when it was at its peak in [April],” a miner who goes by the gaming nickname Commando1 told The New Arab. “Today all bitcoin owners have no choice but to wait and hope bitcoin’s value rises again. I don’t envy their situation.”

If anything is keeping the youth in Lebanon hopeful about mining, it’s desperation and fear from the looming specter of unemployment and financial crisis. Whether all their efforts to keep their mining boat afloat turns out to be worth it, however, remains to be seen.


Harsh reality of net-zero commitments under scrutiny

Harsh reality of net-zero commitments under scrutiny
Updated 16 October 2021

Harsh reality of net-zero commitments under scrutiny

Harsh reality of net-zero commitments under scrutiny
  • Call to set clear goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions

LONDON: The current spike in oil and gas prices could not have come at a worse time. On the eve of the UN COP26 global climate conference in Scotland this month, soaring energy prices are resulting in increased investor interest in fossil fuel companies.

The S&P 500 energy sector is up around 50 percent this year and has been the wider index’s best-performing group.

Indeed, a recent report stated financial institutions in the G20 are carrying almost $22 trillion of exposure to carbon-intensive sectors despite increasing pressure for companies to disinvest in polluting industries.

The report, by Moody’s Investors Service, warned banks and asset managers need to “ramp up” climate risk assessments and “set clear goals for reaching net-zero in their financed emissions.”

Moody’s warning comes after the London Financial Times reported this week that global banks have refused to commit to the International Energy Agency’s road map for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The FT said negotiators for the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, an initiative led by UN special envoy for climate action and finance Mark Carney to encourage finance groups to stop funding fossil fuel companies, have struggled to convince banks to agree to end financing of all new oil, gas and coal exploration projects this year.

Many analysts believe the huge rises in gas and oil prices is evidence of the risks of phasing out fossil fuel production too quickly while renewable energy remains unable to pick up the slack of global demand.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman criticized the IEA’s call for the energy sector to be net zero by 2050, calling it a “la-la-land” scenario.

Last week, Qatari Energy Minister Saad Al-Kaabi criticized governments for making statements about eliminating emissions without adopting clear plans to achieve net-zero.

Al-Kaabi’s comments followed an announcement by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, that the country planned to become the first Middle East oil producer to achieve net zero by 2050.

The UAE’s emissions averaged almost 21 metric tons per person in 2018.

As a comparison, the figure in France, which is also committed to net zero by 2050, is 4.6.

Along with the UAE, Russia and Turkey also announced recently that they could be net-zero by 2060 and 2053 respectively although there were no details outlining they will move their economies away from fossil fuels.

The move follows EU plans to impose a carbon-border tariff that could force Russian and Turkish companies to pay for excess emissions in key industries.

However, for Russia to achieve net-zero by 2060 would require a massive overhaul of its economy.

Russia’s oil and gas sales contribute between 15 to 20 percent of the country’s GDP and fossil fuel exports account for more than 50 percent of all exports. The country’s coal industry contributes around 12 percent to GDP.

Achieving net-zero in Russia by 2060 will require a 65 percent reduction in its emissions according to research institute the World Resources Institute. Yet Russia’s most recent submission to the UN under the Paris Agreement suggested its emissions would increase 30 percent by the end of the decade compared to 1990 levels.

Meanwhile Turkey, which last week became the last G20 country to ratify the Paris accord, would have to slash its emissions by around 30 percent by the end of the decade to reach its 2053 target. The WRI had forecast Turkey was set to double its current emissions by the end of the decade.

While governments step up their commitments to sustainability to fend off new regulations and respond to growing pressure from investors the reality looks very different.

Moody’s report said G20 banks’ exposure to carbon-intensive sectors amounted to $13.8 trillion, while equities held by asset managers were worth $6.6 trillion.

Regionally, Asia and the Americans led the way with $9 trillion and $8 trillion respectively, with EMEA accounting for $5 trillion. There was no country breakdown.

By sector, manufacturing, power and other utilities, transportation, and oil and gas feature heavily among the G20 financial institutions’ top carbon-intensive exposures.

Companies and governments remain under increasing pressure from both climate-focused regulations and shareholder pressure to disinvest in polluting industries.

However, in a report published last month the WRI said G20 countries still account for 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Helen Mountford, vice president, Climate & Economics, WRI said: “Action or inaction by G20 countries will largely determine whether we can avoid the most dangerous and costly impacts of climate change.”


Work on NEOM’s green hydrogen plant likely to start in H1 2022

Work on NEOM’s green hydrogen plant likely to start in H1 2022
Updated 16 October 2021

Work on NEOM’s green hydrogen plant likely to start in H1 2022

Work on NEOM’s green hydrogen plant likely to start in H1 2022
  • What we have already said is that we will be dispatching liquid ammonia into the market in the first quarter of 2026, so that’s already there: ACWA Power CEO

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s energy company, ACWA Power, expects construction work on its green hydrogen plant in NEOM to start in the first half of 2022, according to the company’s CEO.

“This is the first project of that scale and quite a lot of work had to be done for the first time. So, we are very much in it, and we are already in even doing some work in advance purchases of long lead items for construction. So, there is quite a lot of activity that is going on,” Paddy Padmanathan told Arab News in an interview.

The CEO of ACWA expected to also see the financial closing of the project, a joint venture with NEOM Co. and American industrial gas company Air Products, taking place in the first half of the next year. The joint venture had hired financial firm Lazard to advise on the project, he told Arab News last month.   

“We are going to full construction as soon as we have achieved the financial closure. What we have already said is that we will be dispatching liquid ammonia into the market in the first quarter of 2026, so that’s already there,” he added.

ACWA Power, which debuted on Saudi Arabia’s stock market on Oct. 4, expects to finalize in the first quarter of next year billions of dollars in financing for a green hydrogen joint venture at the planned futuristic city NEOM, ACWA’s CEO told Reuters last week, adding that roughly 20 percent of the $6.5 billion project will be funded with equity and the rest will be limited-recourse project finance.

Padmanathan believes that NEOM’s project will be a game changer for the Kingdom and the company as it will help ACWA expand into that industry once it’s completed. The plant will need around 4.3 GW of clean energy to power it and ACWA plans to use solar in the day and wind in the night to eliminate the need for batteries and expensive storage solutions, he told Arab News.

In July 2020, Air Products, in conjunction with ACWA Power and NEOM, announced the signing of an agreement for a $5 billion world-scale green hydrogen-based ammonia production facility powered by renewable energy. The planning and design phases are currently underway to start construction in NEOM’s new industrial city.

This joint venture is the first step for the NEOM region to become a key player in the global hydrogen market. The business is expected to build an environmentally friendly hydrogen production facility to provide sustainable solutions for the global transport sector and to meet the challenges of climate change.

The project, which will be equally owned by the three partners, will export hydrogen in the form of liquid ammonia to the world market for use as a biofuel that feeds transportation systems.

It will produce 650 tons of carbon-free hydrogen per day and 1.2 million tons of green ammonia per year, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of 3 million tons per year.

ACWA Power, which operates in 13 countries, is bidding for renewable energy projects in Uzbekistan, Egypt, South Africa and Indonesia, as well as a large pipeline of projects in Saudi Arabia, the CEO said.

The company, which the Public Investment Fund is a key shareholder in, uses project finance to fund all of its projects but it will continue investing around SR2.8 billion a year of its own money into these projects to keep growing, Padamanthan told Arab News last month.

ACWA Power is planning projects this year with a total investment cost of around $16 billion, ACWA’s CFO told Arab News in July.


AD Ports Group report 21% rise in H1 revenue

AD Ports Group report 21% rise in H1 revenue
Updated 16 October 2021

AD Ports Group report 21% rise in H1 revenue

AD Ports Group report 21% rise in H1 revenue

DUBAI: AD Ports Group on Saturday reported a 21 percent year-on-year increase in revenues in the first half of the year, the official WAM new agency reported. 

According to the financial results, the group reported 1,832 million dirhams ($499 million) revenue as compared with 1,517 million dirhams in the first half of 2020, driven by organic growth, diversification into new businesses, new leases and partnerships.

EBITDA rose 8 percent year-on-year to 770 million dirhams, up from 714 million dirhams in the first half of 2020, with growth across most of the business clusters.


Sakani pays taxes on behalf of first-time homebuyers, issues 558,367 certificates

Sakani pays taxes on behalf of first-time homebuyers, issues 558,367 certificates
Updated 16 October 2021

Sakani pays taxes on behalf of first-time homebuyers, issues 558,367 certificates

Sakani pays taxes on behalf of first-time homebuyers, issues 558,367 certificates

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Housing Ministry’s Sakani program paid real estate tax on behalf of first-time homebuyers and issued 558,367 certificates among beneficiaries since the beginning of the program until September 2021, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday citing the program’s monthly report.

The report showed a surge in the number of beneficiaries from the Sakani program’s housing and financial solutions during the current year. A total of 160,304 Saudi families benefited from the ministry’s program until the end of September.  

The report also gave details about the number of projects being carried out in partnership with real estate developers in different parts of the Kingdom.

The Ministry of Housing and the Real Estate Development Fund formed Sakani in 2017 with the aim of facilitating home ownership in the Kingdom through the creation of new housing stock, allocating plots and homes to nationals and financing their purchase. It has a goal of reaching 70 percent home ownership by 2030.

The program also launched new e-services to serve people effectively.

The app, which allows users to access four new services, can be downloaded at: qrco.de/bc5N3L.

The services include electronic financing, ready-made units, approved contractor, and interactive maps.

The services had been added to ensure Sakani becomes “the go-to destination for housing services and solutions, in order to make it easier for Saudi families to own their first home.”


How Saudi Aramco is working to protect oceans

How Saudi Aramco is working to protect oceans
Updated 16 October 2021

How Saudi Aramco is working to protect oceans

How Saudi Aramco is working to protect oceans

The importance of the oceans to the future of our planet has never been as clear as it is today. The UN has declared 2021 the start of a “Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development,” with the aim of sharing knowledge to protect and nurture this extraordinary natural resource for future generations. At Saudi Aramco, we believe that oceans are a shared inheritance: Covering 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, they connect every continent in a global ecosystem that is as complex as it is irreplaceable.

Long-term thinking

Aramco welcomes the UN drawing attention to the importance of marine environments and recognizes the need for action on multiple fronts to protect life and livelihoods. This is why we have long partnerships with scientists, researchers and other experts on a wide range of initiatives — including gathering a wealth of unique data, particularly on the waters of the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf.

The projects Aramco has launched to protect marine ecosystems are global in scope — with a particular focus on coral-reef regeneration and mangrove restoration. Other projects include protecting endangered marine turtles and cultivating marine algae to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere to reduce the impact of climate change. We have also set up community outreach and education programs to share knowledge with students and children, so they grow up understanding the importance and value of the oceans too.

Gathering data

Behind Aramco’s environmental work lies a valuable resource that we are keen to share with the world: Scientific data. To protect any marine environment, you have first to find out what is there, and we have been monitoring the waters in parts of the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf region for decades, frequently visiting the same reefs.

Our scientists and experts have been collecting valuable information regarding wave height, currents, dissolved oxygen, water temperature, clarity, salinity and the concentration of chlorophyll, the pigment that provides energy for photosynthesis. Aramco wants to help the global scientific community by giving free access to this data to support other environmental projects, and we are already partnering with several international organizations, such as the C4IR Ocean and its Ocean Data Platform, to further this aim.

Regenerating coral reefs

In terms of our projects, we have supported the regeneration of endangered coral reefs. Around the world, these precious and fragile ecosystems — which provide a habitat for hundreds of marine species while also forming a natural barrier against coastal erosion —have become degraded. This damage has multiple causes, including coastal and offshore development, illegal fishing practices, pollution, and the rise in sea temperatures caused by climate change.

Recognizing the seriousness of the problem, Aramco took action through a series of initiatives in the Arabian Gulf, Florida, Hawaii, American Samoa, and the Caribbean. In the Arabian Gulf, for example, most coral communities are in the vicinity of offshore islands, and we realized one of the factors preventing damaged reefs from regenerating was a lack of hard ground on which the coral could reform. We, therefore, designed and built a series of strong and stable artificial reef structures on the seabed, which the coral could then recolonize, providing a new habitat for a wide variety of marine organisms. Our scientists closely monitor these regenerated reefs, which have been a great success: fish are thriving and the variety of marine life has increased, while the reefs are more resilient.

Seeding mangroves

A second area in which Aramco is playing a prominent role is the planting of millions of mangrove trees in coastal regions. Restoring degraded mangrove forests in this way has great benefits for both biodiversity and carbon capture, through which trees and plants extract and store CO2 from the atmosphere. Research shows that mangrove trees are about five times more effective at sequestering CO2 than terrestrial rainforest trees, making them an effective nature-based solution for combatting climate change. We know these projects are having a significant impact and, building on this success, Aramco aims to plant more mangrove trees in Saudi Arabia and around the world, in partnership with global leaders, through projects in South East Asia, Australasia, South America, the Caribbean, East Africa, and South Asia. It is a truly global undertaking.

Commitment to environment

Aramco also recently developed a new corporate biodiversity protection policy, which requires that all new Aramco projects have a net positive impact on biodiversity and natural ecosystems. The great benefit of this approach is that the diversity of living things in any area in which Aramco is operating — whether terrestrial, coastal, or marine — is taken into consideration before any new project can begin. If a negative impact on biodiversity is identified, then it must be avoided, mitigated, or offset as a last resort. This environmental approach is now mandatory across all our projects and operations.

The company’s first environmental protection policy was introduced as long ago as 1964 and we recently published a book documenting The Ecosystem and Biodiversity of the Arabian Gulf, summarizing 50 years of scientific research between Aramco and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. Our recently published Marine Atlas of the Western Arabian Gulf provides a baseline of marine ecosystems and their locations. Both books illustrate the beauty and biodiversity of the Arabian Gulf’s marine ecosystems, their sensitivities and vulnerabilities. Our environmental partners include global organizations, regional working groups and local universities, such as KFUPM and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

Our commitment to the world’s oceans is clear: We intend to protect and support them with care, investment and expertise; always working to ensure that Aramco operations don’t adversely impact the marine environment, and enhancing it wherever we can.

 

  • Dr Khaled Asfahani is head of Marine Environment Protection at Aramco & Dr Loughland is an environment consultant at Aramco.