In 1634, the unlikeliest of financial bubbles unfolded. Tulip Mania, as it was called, drove the price of some fashionable tulip bulbs to extraordinarily high prices. At the peak of tulip mania, in February 1637, a single tulip bulb could sell for 10 times the annual salary of a skilled worker. But not long after that, the bubble burst and tulip prices collapsed.
Now, Dutch growers are using something else associated with a financial bubble in their tulip greenhouses: Bitcoin.
Flowers and Bitcoin
Mining Bitcoin is a very energy-intensive process — in fact, this is a big part of why Bitcoin is considered by some to be a major environmental issue. Bitcoin’s emissions are comparable to that of a smaller country and despite efforts to make it more sustainable, energy consumption remains a problem.
Much of this energy is also lost as heat. So engineers in the Netherlands thought why not at least try to make use of this heat. This isn’t the first attempt of this nature (other miners have used heat byproducts to warm up a swimming pool, for example), but Bert de Groot had something different in mind: he wanted to use the heat for a tulip greenhouse.
The system uses solar panels for electricity, further reducing the environmental impact of the mining, and it’s turning tulips into even more of a cash crop.
“We think with this way of heating our greenhouse but also earning some Bitcoin we have a win-win situation,” flower farmer Danielle Koning, 37, told AFP.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, gas prices have gone up significantly in Europe, and for many farmers using greenhouses, cutting reliance on gas has been a priority. Granted, Bitcoin miners aren’t as efficient as dedicated heaters, but their primary task is something unrelated, which makes it advantageous.
For the Netherlands, this could be a big deal. Not only is the small country the largest producer of tulips in the world, but it’s actually the second biggest agricultural exporter in the world, second only to the US. Much of this exported food is grown in greenhouses, and these greenhouses rely on heat sources.
Bitcoin remains remarkably significant
This only really works because Bitcoin’s price has remained remarkably high, even as the world’s economies are experiencing very turbulent times. After reaching an all-time high of $64,000 in late 2021 after a dramatic surge, Bitcoin seemed to fall off a cliff — but its value stabilized this month at around $28,000.
De Groot says he has over a dozen clients, including restaurants, warehouses, and the tulip greenhouse, and he says this operation is actually helping the environment, as this is better than heating with gas.
“This operation is actually carbon negative, as are all the operations I basically build,” says the long-haired de Groot, sporting an orange polo shirt with his firm’s logo. “We’re actually improving the environment.”
“The most important thing we get out of it is, we save on natural gas,” says Koning. “Secondly, well, we earn Bitcoin by running them in the greenhouse.”
There’s a distinct irony in this because the philosopher Nassim Taleb, who coined the idea of unpredictable but historic “black swan” events, compared Bitcoin to the Tulip Mania from four centuries ago. But De Groot isn’t really worried about Bitcoin going away.
“I have absolutely no worries about the long-term value proposition of an immutable monetary system,” he says. “Bitcoin will last forever.”
This is not to say that cryptocurrency doesn’t have its woes, however. After FTX, once the world’s highest-profile crypto exchange, took a spectacular dive half a year ago, nine million customers were left without their funds, prompting regulators to take a more proactive approach in regulating Bitcoin and its peers.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are just one application of the blockchain technology they are based on.
It all started with the birth of Bitcoin in 2009 when the general population was introduced to the concept of using a decentralized public ledger to record and facilitate transactions across a peer-to-peer network. Since then, many other projects like Ethereum, Cardano, or BNB came into existence, giving rise to the ever-expanding crypto market.
Things like smart contracts, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), cybersecurity and healthcare can all benefit from blockchain. Given their decentralized, transparent, and immutable infrastructure, blockchains can provide a high degree of security for cyber-data, and with hackers increasingly targeting hospitals, this can also benefit medical facilities. All this goes to show that we’re still only understanding how we can put all this technology to good use.