Bitcoin Mining a Growing “Waste of Energy” in Iceland

Neither Icelandic authorities nor data centres in Iceland will reveal how much energy is used to mine Bitcoin or other digital currencies in Iceland, Snæbjörn Guðmundsson of nature conservation organisation Náttúrugrið told Vísir. Data centres use 30% more energy in Iceland than all Icelandic homes put together, and while the percentage of this energy that goes toward Bitcoin mining is not public knowledge, it could be as high as 90%.

Iceland’s abundance of renewable energy and cheap power has had both data centres and Bitcoin mining operations flocking to the country in recent years to set up shop. Iceland’s cool climate is another benefit, as data centres produce a lot of heat that would require additional energy to cool if located in a warmer climate. Both politicians and environmental activists have questioned the benefit of Bitcoin and digital currency mining operations for the Icelandic nation as well as their impact on the environment.

New hydropower plant could be used to mine Bitcoin

A 2018 report by KPMG stated that around 90% of energy used by data centres in Iceland had gone toward mining Bitcoin. In a column in Vísir, Snæbjörn refers to a recent analysis by Bitcoin expert Jaran Mellerud, who estimates that Bitcoin mining in Iceland uses around 120 MW of power, or around 85% of the 140 MW of power used by the country’s data centres in 2022. These figures have not changed much in recent years despite assertions from Iceland’s National Power Company (Landsvirkjun) that they would reduce the sale of Iceland’s energy to Bitcoin mining operations.

Snæbjörn is concerned that the proposed Hvammsvirkjun hydropower plant in South Iceland’s Þjórsá river would be used to power further Bitcoin mining in Iceland, although the National Power Company has stated that power plants would not be built solely for the energy needs of Bitcoing mining centres.

New York-based Bitcoin mining company told the Wall Street Journal last month that they would expand their operations in Iceland in response to an impending tax on Bitcoin mining in the United States. At the same time, Icelandic energy companies have stated there is no capacity for increased digital currency mining in the country.

“This is a waste of energy that should not be happening in a society like the one we live in today,” Snæbjörn stated.

Russian Foreign Ministry Responds to Iceland’s Embassy Closure

Jakobsdóttir and Lavrov

Iceland’s decision to suspend operations in its Moscow embassy “destroys” the countries’ bilateral operations, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has stated according to Reuters. Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs announced last week that it would shut down the embassy of Iceland in Moscow on August 1 and had requested the Russian embassy in Iceland to scale down its operations and send home its ambassador. Icelandic authorities will lay off the embassy’s locally hired staff and terminate rental contracts in Moscow.

“The decision taken by the Icelandic authorities to lower the level of diplomatic relations with Russia destroys the entire range of Russian-Icelandic cooperation,” the Russian Foreign Ministry stated. “We will take this unfriendly decision into account when building our ties with Iceland in the future. All anti-Russian actions of Reykjavik will inevitably be followed by a corresponding reaction.”

The Icelandic embassy in Moscow has had seven staff members: two sent out from Iceland and five who were hired locally. Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs told Vísir that the five locally hired staff members will be laid off according to their current employment contracts. Iceland’s Ambassador to Russia Árni Þór Sigurðsson will be relocated to the Icelandic embassy in Copenhagen. The ministry also expects to terminate its rental contracts both for the embassy offices and the ambassador’s residence.

A press release from Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs stated that “[t]he decision to close down the embassy’s activities does not imply the termination of the diplomatic relationship between the countries. As soon as conditions permit, emphasis will be placed on resuming the activities of the Icelandic embassy in Moscow.”

Blue Lagoon Restaurant Awarded Michelin Star

Moss Restaurant Agnar Sverrisson

Moss, the restaurant at Iceland’s popular attraction the Blue Lagoon, was awarded a Michelin star in Turku, Finland yesterday. The restaurant’s Executive Chef Agnar Sverrisson says he and his team are still digesting the news. RÚV reported first.

Moss is the third restaurant in Iceland to be awarded a Michelin star: the first was Dill, which received the distinction in 2017, and the second was Óx, which received one last year. Both Óx and Dill retained their star, and in addition to its star, Dill also boasts a green star, awarded for gastronomy and sustainability. One Michelin star means that a restaurant is “very good in its category.” Two stars mean a restaurant is “worth a detour” while three warrant “a special journey,” according to the Michelin rating system. Other Reykjavík restaurants mentioned in the guide this year are Middle Eastern spot Sümac, the recently opened Tides, seafood restaurant Brút, and traditional-food-with-a-twist favourite Matur og Drykkur.

Agnar said that Moss had been working towards earning the distinction since 2018. “It’s not easy to get this star and you have to sacrifice many things,” he stated. “The Retreat at Blue Lagoon has been ready to do that and finally we got it. We’re on cloud nine.”

Agnar previously worked as head chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, the oldest restaurant with two Michelin stars in England, and opened his own venture, Texture Restaurant & Champagne Bar, in London in 2007. Texture was awarded a Michelin star in 2010 and retained it until 2020, the year that Agnar returned to Iceland and took the position of Executive Chef at Moss.

Moss’s menu features modern Icelandic cuisine with a sustainable focus.

Ambiguity on If, When, and How Ministers Will Be Shuffled

Jón Gunnarsson Alþingi

When Icleand’s current government took power in November 2021, Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson stated that Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir would take over the Ministry of Justice from Jón Gunnarsson within 18 months. More than 21 months later, however, Jón Gunnarsson remains in the post. Bjarni recently told RÚV that Guðrún would be appointed minister within the coming days, but not necessarily over the Ministry of Justice.

Bjarni Benediktsson is the chairman of the Independence Party, of which both Jón and Guðrún are members. The constituency council of South Iceland, Guðrún’s constituency, sent Bjarni a letter last week encouraging him to fulfill his promise of making their representative minister. “I am grateful to feel the broad support there is for me in the constituency and it shows that the South Iceland constituency has become very impatient,” Guðrún stated at the end of last week. She added, however, that she had not discussed the issue with Bjarni recently and that she had not heard anything about the potential ministerial assignment.

RÚV reported yesterday that some Independence Party members from Guðrún’s constituency, as well as others from East Iceland, had encouraged Bjarni to keep Jón in the cabinet.

Sweeping decisions marked by controversy

Jón’s tenure as Minister of Justice been marked by large-scale decisions regarding both law enforcement and immigration, many of them controversial. He unilaterally passed a regulation to arm Icelandic police with electroshock weapons, a move the Parliamentary Ombudsman later concluded was a breach of procedure. A bill on increased police powers introduced by Jón and since made law by Alþingi, was criticised by the Icelandic Bar Association for granting police the authority to surveil those who had not been suspected of criminal activity.

Under Jón’s direction, the Directorate of Immigration withheld data from Parliament, delaying the processing of citizenship applications. In April, the Minister promised additional tightening of asylum seeker regulations and introduced a bill that would increase financial incentives for asylum seekers who left Iceland voluntarily. Jón’s initial appointment was criticised by opposition MPs due to his record on women’s rights.