Soluna's CEO on the Future of Sustainable Finance

John Belizaire, CEO at Soluna, talks fintech, ESG and the environmental imact of crypto mining as he discusses green finance and sustainable fintechstec

John Belizaire is the CEO, founder, and entrepreneur behind Soluna - a New York-based technology company that is focused on creating sustainability solutions for the world of finance and beyond. His experience as a business leader and technology strategist has enabled him to steer complex initiatives from concept to growth. With a foundation in leading-edge technology, he has also envisioned, developed, and implemented transformational industry-specific technology solutions. We caught up with him to discuss green finance, the environmental impact of cryptocurrency, and how fintech can achieve net-zero.

Q:  Why is it more important than ever for fintech companies to focus on the energy side of sustainability? And how they could do more?

The rise of cryptocurrency has brought up important questions about the environmental impact of energy usage associated with crypto mining, and other financial services like credit card transactions and day trading. Hyperscale Computing currently uses 10% of the world’s electricity, and that number is increasing rapidly. It, in many ways, keeps fossil fuel plants online because of their persistent need for energy.  This increases the environmental impact.  It’s time to scale more affordable and sustainable methods like zero-carbon, batchable computing powered by renewables.

Q: Considering a core focus of Soluna is around renewable energy; why is it so important to make data centres net-zero from a sustainability perspective?

Hyperscale Computing currently uses 10% of the world’s electricity, and that number is increasing rapidly. Unfortunately, traditional data centers need always-on energy. This serves as a deterrent to the renewable energy transition. But, what if you could develop a new class of data centers that are flexible in their energy usage?  We could use this new type of data center to help catalyze renewable energy generation. Now, there is a class of compute-intensive applications like cryptocurrency mining, AI, and machine learning that are batch-oriented–so they can be paused. This form of computing makes for the perfect load - or demand -  that renewable energy power plants need to solve their wasted energy problem. If we could somehow bring these two worlds together we could accelerate the transition to 100% green energy and make computing more sustainable. It’s a natural symbiosis, a fast-growing, batch-oriented market that provides a flexible approach to computing. This is the kind of load that renewable power plants need to solve their wasted energy problem, allowing both sectors to scale.

Q: Legacy data centres are an energy-intensive industry, please describe what makes your solutions more efficient.

A: Soluna Computing’s modular data centers (MDCs) are built on-site or nearby an abundant source of clean energy such as wind, solar, or hydro plants, and consume the excess energy that would otherwise be wasted, or curtailed–a major problem for clean energy facilities that leads to lost revenue. Our MDCs specialize in batchable (non-time-sensitive) computing processes such as cryptocurrency mining, so they can be turned on or off to respond to energy availability and pricing. This makes our data center solution both energy and cost-efficient. Our proprietary MDC design allows our facilities to quickly scale up based on the space and amount of excess energy available, anywhere in the world.

Q: As a seasoned entrepreneur, what made you want to get involved in crypto mining?

A: My background is as a computer scientist. I remember when I first learned about blockchain and the Bitcoin protocol. Inside of this new form digital money was a treasure trove of solutions to some of the computing sciences’ biggest problems. But, my fascination with crypto mining was piqued when I learned about the relationship between the security that crypto mining provides to the Blockchain network and its relationship to energy. 

I was asked to become the leader of a renewable energy development company that was trying to use the energy-intensive nature of mining to launch the development of a wind farm in Morocco. It was my first experience with the renewable energy space. For the next several years I quickly learned about the wasted energy problem and how crypto mining could be a solution.

Also, working on the African continent exposed me to the imbalance in economic development.  Many countries are unable to reach their economic potential because they are starved of clean, stable sources of energy.  Not to mention the fact that financial freedom is elusive in some countries and bitcoin -- the new decentralized digital asset, secured by energy -- offers hope for their citizens.   

It all brought me full circle.

I later made the connection to the power of cryptocurrency mining to unlock renewable energy deployment at scale in places that have an underdeveloped renewable energy industry.

Q: Which cryptocurrencies do you mine the most? And how does your process work?

A: We primarily mine bitcoin. The Bitcoin network is large enough to support the business model we have and allows us to deploy our MDCs anywhere and at any scale. We develop facilities onsite, behind-the-meter with the power generation plants. This allows us to absorb the spilled renewable energy and convert it to computing power. We use this computing to mine cryptocurrency and other compute-intensive applications. Our data centers are technology agnostic, so we can put any type of server in them.

Q: Why is it important for organisations not to curtail energy? And what are you doing to help in this area?

A: Curtailed energy is lost revenue for power plant owners. It brings down the ROI of renewable energy projects, increases risk to investors and owners and slows the transition away from fossil fuels. High risk of curtailment can kill potential clean energy power plants because of the uncertainty around payback periods. Soluna’s MDCs can help project owners eliminate curtailment up to nearly 100%. The MDCs provide behind-the-meter flexible demand so that renewable energy project owners can sell every megawatt of electricity that they produce.

Q: If there was one piece of wisdom you could share with people in the fintech industry so they could improve their edge, what would it be?

A: Start thinking about your computing load differently. There are your mission-critical processes that run in real-time. Keep those with your existing cloud providers. But, there is a growing segment that is batch-oriented that may represent say about 1% of your compute load. Think about taking those flexible loads and putting them in data centers or cloud providers that help create additionality–more renewable energy in the world.  These would help to meet your ESG goals, and catalyze a cleaner, more sustainable future.

Q: Which positive financial innovations do you anticipate in the future?

A: As financial transactions and currency become decentralized, I expect micro-entrepreneurs to become more empowered to take control of their finances and bargaining power. I also expect fintech to become more aware of energy issues and carbon footprint and join us in catalyzing the clean energy revolution.

Q: Please summarise your life in three words.

A: Luck, Learning, Family.

Q: What is next for Soluna in the coming years?

A: We are going to energize a significant portion of our growing pipeline data centers by the end of 2022. We are going to continue to grow the pipeline, adding more MDCs to renewable energy projects across the world. In three years, we expect on-site, flexible computing to be an industry standard for how renewable energy projects are built.  Once we are up to scale, with Gigawatts of computing available worldwide, we will go beyond crypto mining to deliver batchable computing jobs to a variety of industries from scientific computing, machine learning, to video rendering, and AI data processing.

Q: Last, what is the one thing you want everyone to know about John Belizaire?

A: I am a life-long learner with a passion for creating great companies, led by kickass teams, to work on the world’s hardest problems. 

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