A tale of two Canadas

As someone who grew up and was educated in Canada, even though I no longer live there, I’m always keen to keep up with what’s happening. So, I was fascinated to read this article by Trenton Paul, a tech enthusiast, on the gap between Toronto and Quebec. He describes Toronto as being all set to become the country’s first smart city, while Quebec has been overrun by bitcoin miners, which appears to be to the detriment of the city. He puts forward an interesting theory — that Canada can’t find a balance when it comes to implementing new technology.

In Quebec, he takes us on a brief tour of an old factory that is now owned by Bitfarms, one of North America’s largest cryptocurrency mining operations. Here there are 7,000 machines doing the same repetitious task, and their number is expected to double this summer. Fans whirr everywhere trying to keep the machines cool and he describes the working conditions as akin to “working in an IT sauna.” He points out that maintaining this process uses up more energy than the nearby Montreal Canadiens’ hockey arena. And, the local energy company Hydro-Quebec has been trying to attract more mining operations to the city, and the mining operations have been flocking there.

What’s the problem in Quebec?

Quite simply this: the number of applications from mining firms wanting to set up in Quebec could potentially make the city a global hub for crypto mining, which sounds great, until you realise that if all of them were in full operation they could cause the collapse of the electricity supply to the Quebec region.

Bitcoin miners also prefer to use clean energy, which means they avoid countries like the U.S. and China where fossil fuels are in wider use. Hydro-Quebec promises that mining operations there are fuelled by hydroelectric power and that the power used for the mining companies is “surplus” — an extra 100 terawatts of low-impact energy. The problem is this, as Trenton Paul says: “as demand grows and more energy is needed to power these machines, the power supply available will not be able to sustain much longer.”

Some joined up thinking is needed

Meanwhile in Toronto, city officials are getting ready to promote it as the country’s first smart city, with Alphabet’s subsidiary Sidewalk Labs planning a timeline for building a smart complex.

As we are still in the early days of this technological ‘gold rush’, it is impossible to say how this will all pan out to Canada’s benefit, but what is clearly required is a ‘One Canada’ policy that brings balance to the implementation of new technology and offers some sound, joined up thinking.

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