From wrecking the environment to making it harder to search for alien life, cryptocurrency mining has been blamed for a multitude of sins. But to cause time itself to slow down is a fresh charge and one which, on the surface, sounds impossible. Something strange is happening in Central Europe right now: clocks are running slow, and not by fractions of a second, but entire minutes. Could large scale crypto mining be responsible or is it being made a convenient scapegoat?
Overclocked Miners May Be Slowing the Clocks
Ever since mid January, the Continental European Power System has been experiencing anomalies. This huge belt of 25 countries, running from Spain to Turkey and from Poland to the Netherlands, has been subject to “a continuous system frequency deviation from the mean value of 50 Hz” reports the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E). The location of the disturbance has been identified – Kosovo and Serbia – but the cause has not.
The power deviations that have been affecting electrical frequencies have had the weird knock-on effect of delaying clocks that calculate their time based on the frequency of the power system. As a result, these are running at “a delay of close to six minutes”. It’s unclear exactly how this slowdown manifests itself, over what period, and whether these clocks can be manually adjusted to show the correct time. What is clear is that the power drain responsible for this anomaly is huge: 113 GWh, which is equivalent to the power consumption of Greenland for six months. Central heating timers and oven clocks are among the systems affected.
Red lines show the main power lines in the European region responsible
The Search for a Culprit Intensifies
ENTSO-E is clearly unhappy about the missing power and its strange side effects. In fact it’s seething, but is literally powerless to act. The situation, it acknowledges, is largely a political one that would require the cooperation of the countries suspected of causing the huge power drain. On the Swiss Grid website, the current deviation from 50 Hz can be viewed in real time. At the time of publication it was sitting at 49.970 Hz, causing a grid time deviation of 345 seconds. The site explains: “There are still many clocks which go by the frequency in the electricity grid. If the frequency is higher, they go faster. If the frequency is lower, they go more slowly.”
The question of what could be siphoning off electricity on such a grand scale remains unresolved. It could be a top secret project involving a particle accelerator akin to the Large Hadron Collider. It could be government impropriety or incompetence. Or it could be crypto miners. Suspicions are falling on the latter option. Electricity rates in Serbia and Kosovo are among Europe’s cheapest, with the price of mining one bitcoin in these regions estimated to be $3,133, placing them on a par with China. “The first step [to resolving the issues] is to cease the deviation,” writes ENTSO-E. “The second step is to compensate for the missing amount of energy.” Crypto miners could yet be exonerated of all charges. But until the culprit can be identified, an enormous rogue mining operation remains a strong possibility.
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