Connect with us


Jack Dorsey’s Block backs bitcoin mining company that wants to bring 25-cent electricity to rural Africa

Source image:

The three co-founders of Gridless at one of their mining sites in Kenya.

Erik Hersman

ACCRA, GHANA — Up until February, Janet Maingi didn’t think much about bitcoin. Born and raised in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, Maingi had instead spent more than twenty years focused on trying to solve one of Africa’s biggest problems: connectivity. To that end, she spent more than 20 years working in operations in the telecom industry, in companies specializing in internet and wireless networks to cable and satellite television. But earlier this year, the 45-year-old mother decided to take on the continent’s second-biggest issue: Its energy problem.

Africa is a renewable energy mecca. There’s an estimated 10 terawatts of solar capacity, 350 gigawatts of hydro, and another 110 gigawatts of wind, according to data from Energy, Capital & Power, an investment platform focused on Africa’s energy sector.

Some of this renewable energy is being harnessed already, but a lot of it isn’t, because it is expensive to build the kind of specialized infrastructure necessary to capture it. Even though Africa boasts 60% of the best solar resources globally, the continent only has 1% installed solar PV capacity, according to the International Energy Agency.

“When you sit back and look at rural Africa and rural Kenya, one of the things that is very prevalent in the homes — I am talking about the 50% that are not electrified — is children have to do their assignments using either paraffin lamps or candles,” Maingi told CNBC on the sidelines of the Africa Bitcoin Conference in Accra.

“Think of their eyesight, think of their health,” she said.


Maingi was frustrated by the divide between generation and capacity, given that 43% of Africa’s population, or 600 million people, lack access to electricity. So in February, she began spitballing creative solutions with two friends, and the three of them landed on a sort-of counterintuitive idea: bitcoin mining.

Mining for the world’s biggest cryptocurrency is a process known as proof-of-work. Miners around the world run high-powered computers that collectively validate transactions and simultaneously create new tokens. The process requires a lot of electricity, and because this is the only variable cost in a low-margin industry, miners tend to seek out the world’s lowest-cost sources of power.

Philip Walton, Gridless co-founder and CFO, setting up a mini grid hydro site to mine with 20 kilowatts of power in Kenya.

Erik Hersman

Bitcoin gets a bad rap for the amount of energy it consumes, but it can also help to unlock these trapped renewable sources of energy. Bitcoin miners are essentially energy buyers, and when they co-locate with renewables, it creates a financial incentive for buildout and improves the core economics of renewable power production. The IEA says that in rural areas “where over 80% of the electricity-deprived live, mini-grids and stand-alone systems, mostly solar based, are the most viable solutions.” 

By May, Maingi and her two colleagues decided to try it out. They founded a venture called Gridless to see whether the additional demand of bitcoin miners on these semi-stranded assets could make renewables in Africa economically viable — and crucially, whether the additional source of energy could power communities previously out of reach of microgrids that electrify parts of Africa.

Gridless also has plans to expand into other parts of Africa with the help of a fresh injection of cash.

Jack Dorsey’s digital payments firm Block and Alyse Killeen’s bitcoin-focused venture firm Stillmark, have led a $2 million seed investment into the company, which Gridless says it plans to use to open new mines.

Maingi is the chief operations officer, and her two friends turned co-founders, chief executive Erik Hersman, and chief financial officer Philip Walton, have spent the last several months launching pilots across Kenya in which they work with mini-grid hydro and solar generators to use their excess capacity to mine.

“We had spent years building internet connectivity infrastructure in rural and urban Africa, and realized that you cannot have a 21st-century economy without both power and connectivity together,” Hersman told CNBC.

The new 533 kilowatt site in Kenya where 300 kilowatts will be used for bitcoin mining.

Erik Hersman

“As we looked at the next problem to solve, we realized that bitcoin mining solved a major problem for renewable mini grid energy developers, in that we could be their industrial off-taker for stranded power, no matter where they were located, thereby making them more sustainable and increasing electrification across Africa,” continued Hersman.

Gridless currently has three operational pilot sites in Murang’a, a rural town that’s a 90-minute drive northeast of Nairobi. Each mine runs on hydroelectric power from HydroBox, an energy company based on the continent. Two of the mines have about 50 kilowatts of capacity, and by Thursday, the third mine will expand to 300 kilowatts.

To put those numbers into perspective, 30 kilowatts would power about 500 households. 50 kilowatts is closer to 800 households.

In January, Gridless plans to launch another 50-kilowatt hydromine in Malawi and its first solar-powered site in West Africa that will have a 30 kilowatt capacity.

Lowering energy costs

So far, the economics make a lot of sense for everyone involved. Gridless serves as a sort of anchor tenant. The company finances construction and manages the operation of data centers in rural communities where traditional industrial or commercial customers are not available, according to a company statement released Tuesday.

Gridless launching a new solar-powered mine in January 2023 in West Africa.

Erik Hersman

Because the power supplier benefits from selling energy that previously had been discarded, the energy plants will sometimes lower costs for the end user. At one of their pilot sites in Kenya, for example, the hydro plant dropped the price of power from 35 cents per kilowatt hour to 25 cents.

The buildout of capacity is also electrifying households. Gridless says they’ve already seen this translate to containerized cold storage for local farmers, battery charging stations for electric motorcycles and public WiFi points.

Once those types of needs are met, Gridless said in a statement that the remaining electricity capacity is used to power the bitcoin mine.

“Bitcoin and mining is really the tool. We’re not doing bitcoin for bitcoin,” said the lead for bitcoin mining and wallet at Block, Thomas Templeton. “The whole objective is really to empower these villages. Bitcoin is a means to that end.”

Block previously announced in April it would be teaming up with Blockstream to break ground on a solar- and battery-powered bitcoin mine in Texas that uses solar and storage technology from Tesla.

Block is also working on a project to make bitcoin mining more distributed and efficient.

Making the mining process more accessible has to do with more than just creating new bitcoin, according to Templeton. Instead, he says the company sees it as a long-term need for a future that is fully decentralized and permissionless.

The company is solving one major barrier to entry: Mining rigs are hard to find, expensive and delivery can be unpredictable. Block says it is looking into making a new ASIC, which is the specialized gear used to mine bitcoin.

Africa Bitcoin Conference delves into real-world use cases for crypto

Democratizing access to the mining process is big for Block. Right now, Africa accounts for around 0.2% of the global bitcoin hashrate (an industry term used to describe the collective computing power of the entire network), according to the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance. The bulk sum of the hashpower shifted from China to the U.S. over the last 18 months after Beijing banned crypto mining. Many in the industry tell CNBC that this kind of centralization is a problem.

“Decentralized mining is essential for the resiliency of bitcoin,” said Templeton, who added that Block kicked off its mining initiative to make mining more accessible, user-friendly and reliable, so that more people can mine.

It was a sentiment echoed by Dorsey in Accra on Tuesday morning. The Block CEO, who said he still plans to move to Africa for six months, added that Block wants to partner with other companies on the continent to make it easier to onboard people into bitcoin.

“We’re working on a hardware miner to make it more, hopefully, accessible and more efficient for people around the world and especially on the continent to participate in securing the network and making it even more resilient in the form of something that’s also useful for other things, not just mining.”

Supporting the rise of bitcoin mining across Africa also translates to another big goal for Block: Helping to accelerate global renewable hashrate.

“Gridless represents a close strategic alignment with our vision of ensuring the bitcoin network increasingly leverages clean energy, in combination with bitcoin computational centers around the world,” said Templeton.


Continue Reading


Two children and two adults survive after Tesla plunges 250 feet off California cliff

View from the helicopter during a rescue operation after a vehicle carrying two adults and two children went over a cliff in Devil’s Slide, San Mateo county, California, U.S., January 2, 2023, plunging hundreds of feet, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in this still image obtained from social media video.

CHP – Golden Gate Division | Reuters

Two adults and two children were rescued from a Tesla that plunged 250 feet off a cliff Monday morning in San Mateo County, California, officials said. 

The car was traveling southbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when it went over the cliff at Devil’s Slide, south of the Tom Lantos tunnel, and landed near the water’s edge below, the Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit said. 

The car flipped and landed on its wheels in the fall, CAL FIRE/Coastside Fire Incident Commander Brian Pottenger said. Witnesses saw the accident and called 911. 

As crews were lowered down, they were able to see movement in the front seat, through their binoculars, meaning someone was alive.

“We were actually very shocked when we found survivable victims in the vehicle. So, that actually was a really hopeful moment for us,” Pottenger said. 

Fire officials called for helicopters to help hoist the survivors to safety. As they waited, firefighters rappelled to the scene and rescued the two children.

Rescue teams are seen at the scene as a Tesla with four occupants plunged over a cliff on Pacific Coast Highway 1 at Devils Slide on January 2, 2022 in San Mateo County, California, United States.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The California Highway Patrol shared video on social media showing helicopters lower first responders to the scene to extricate and rescue two adults inside. 

All four were hospitalized. The San Mateo Sheriff’s Office said the two adults suffered non-life-threatening injuries and the two children were unharmed.

It’s not clear what caused the car to go over the cliff. CHP is handling the investigation. 

Continue Reading


Tesla shares tumble more than 10% following deliveries report

Tesla vehicles are shown at a sales and service center in Vista, California, June 3, 2022.

Mike Blake | Reuters

Shares of Tesla dropped 13% on Tuesday morning, a day after the electric auto maker reported fourth-quarter vehicle production and delivery numbers for 2022.

Deliveries are the closest approximation of sales disclosed by Tesla. The company reported 405,278 total deliveries for the quarter and 1.31 million total deliveries for the year. These numbers represented a record for the Elon Musk-led automaker and growth of 40% in deliveries year over year, but they fell shy of analysts’ expectations.

related investing news

Some analysts see a buying opportunity in Tesla for 2023 despite persistent demand pressures


According to a consensus of analysts’ estimates compiled by FactSet, as of Dec. 31, 2022, Wall Street was expecting Tesla to report around 427,000 deliveries for the final quarter of the year. Estimates updated in December, and included in the FactSet consensus, ranged from 409,000 to 433,000.

Those more recent estimates were in line with a company-compiled consensus distributed by Tesla investor relations Vice President Martin Viecha. 

Some Wall Street analysts think Tesla’s deliveries miss spells trouble for the electric vehicle maker, but others see a buying opportunity for the company in 2023.

Baird analyst Ben Kallo, who recently named Tesla a top pick for 2023, maintained an outperform rating and said he would remain a buyer of the stock ahead of the company’s earnings report, which is scheduled for Jan. 25.

“Q4 deliveries missed consensus but beat our estimates,” he said in a Tuesday note. “Importantly, production increased ~20% q/q which we expect to continue into 2023 as gigafactories in Berlin and Austin continue to ramp.”

Analysts at Goldman Sachs said they consider the delivery report to be an “incremental negative,” and view Tesla as a company that is “well positioned for long-term growth.” Goldman reiterated its buy rating on the stock in a Monday note and said that making vehicles more affordable in a challenging macroeconomic environment will be a “key driver of growth.”

“We believe key debates from here will be on whether vehicle deliveries can reaccelerate, margins and Tesla’s brand,” the analysts said.

Shares of Tesla suffered an extreme yearlong sell-off in 2022, prompting CEO Musk to tell employees in late December not to be “too bothered by stock market craziness.”

Musk has blamed Tesla’s declining share price in part on rising interest rates. But critics point to his rocky $44 billion Twitter takeover as a bigger culprit for the slide.

Morgan Stanley analysts said they think the company’s share price weakness is a “window of opportunity to buy.”

“Between a worsening macro backdrop, record high unaffordability, and increasing competition, there are hurdles for all auto companies to overcome in the year ahead,” they said in a note Tuesday. “However, within this backdrop we believe TSLA has the potential to widen its lead in the EV race, as it leverages its cost and scale advantages to further itself from the competition.”

CNBC’s Lora Kolodny and Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

Continue Reading


Tesla makes China boss Tom Zhu its highest-profile executive after Elon Musk

Tom Zhu Xiaotong, Tesla’s current executive in charge of China, speaks as a new Tesla experience store opens on Aug. 18, 2015 in Hangzhou, China.

Visual China Group | Getty Images

Tesla’s China chief Tom Zhu has been promoted to take direct oversight of the electric carmaker’s U.S. assembly plants as well as sales operations in North America and Europe, according to an internal posting of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

The Tesla posting showed that Zhu’s title of vice president for Greater China had not changed and that he also retained his responsibilities as Tesla’s most senior executive for sales in the rest of Asia as of Tuesday.

The move makes Zhu the highest-profile executive at Tesla after Chief Executive Elon Musk, with direct oversight for deliveries in all of its major markets and operations of its key production hubs.

The reporting lines for Zhu would keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development — both areas where Musk has been heavily involved — separate while creating an apparent deputy to Musk on the more near-term challenges of managing global sales and output.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Reuters reviewed the organizational chart that had been posted internally by Tesla and confirmed the change with two people who had seen it. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Elon Musk needs to go back to Tesla and have others run Twitter, says Jim Cramer

Zhu and a team of his reports were brought in by Tesla late last year to troubleshoot production issues in the United States, driving an expectation among his colleagues then that he was being groomed for a bigger role.

Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by his acquisition of Twitter and Tesla analysts and investors have urged action that would deepen the senior executive bench and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant rebounded strongly from Covid lockdowns in China.

Tesla said on Monday that it had delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter, short of Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

The company had delivered 308,600 vehicles in the same period a year earlier.

The Tesla managers reporting to Zhu include: Jason Shawhan, director of manufacturing at the Gigafactory in Texas; Hrushikesh Sagar, senior director of manufacturing at Tesla’s Fremont factory; Joe Ward, vice president in charge of Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Troy Jones, vice president of North America sales and service, according to the Tesla notice on reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

Tesla country managers in China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to report to Zhu, the notice showed.

Zhu does not have a direct report at Tesla’s still-ramping Berlin plant, but a person with knowledge of the matter said responsibility for that operation would come with the reporting line for Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward could not be immediately reached for comment.

Zhu, who was born in China but now holds a New Zealand passport, joined Tesla in 2014. Before that he was a project manager at a company established by his MBA classmates at Duke University, advising Chinese contractors working on infrastructure projects in Africa.

During Shanghai’s two-month Covid lockdown, Zhu was among the first batch of employees sleeping in the factory as they sought to keep it running, people who work with him have said.

Zhu, a no-fuss manager who sports a buzz cut, favors Tesla-branded fleece jackets and has lived in a government-subsidized apartment that is a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was not immediately clear whether he would move after his promotion.

He takes charge of Tesla’s main production hubs at a time when the company is readying the launch of Cybertruck and a revamped version of its Model 3 sedan. Tesla has also said it is developing a cheaper electric vehicle but has not provided details on that plan.

When Tesla posted a picture on Twitter last month to celebrate its Austin, Texas, plant hitting a production milestone for its Model Y, Zhu was among hundreds of workers smiling on the factory floor.

Why China is beating the U.S. in electric vehicles

Allan Wang, who was promoted to vice president in charge of sales in China in July, was listed as the legal representative for the operation in registration papers filed with Chinese regulators in a change by the company last month.

Tesla board member James Murdoch said in November the company had recently identified a potential successor to Musk without naming the person. Murdoch did not respond to a request for comment.

Electrek previously reported that Zhu would take responsibility for U.S. sales, delivery and service.

Continue Reading