By on July 12, 2021

Tesla

As I type this, it’s been less than 24 hours since Tesla announced v.9 of their Full Self Driving Beta. Full Self Driving, as the name implies, claims to use advanced artificial intelligence software along with a whole host of sensor arrays and digital inputs to get you and your passengers from point A to point B with minimal inputif any.

Tesla’s bombastic ring leader, Elon Musk, has called this latest version of his autonomous tech “mind-blowing”, and has touted the computing power of Tesla’s “Full Self Driving Chip” as the key to making all this possible. Since that chip’s reveal in 2019, however, Musk has become almost as famous as a pitch-man for cryptocurrencies on Saturday Night Live as he already was as a carmaker, which begs the question: could your Tesla really pay for itself mining for crypto?

The short answer is: No. Not even a little bit. The real-world limitations on the project are nearly totally insurmountable. As a thought experiment, though, it might be fun to explore – and, in the right light, the answer becomes a resounding: Kinda.

Ed. note — the initial headline read “Using Bitcoin to Pay for Your Tesla is a No-Go. This was an editing error and the headline has been changed to better reflect the piece.

So, if you’re still with me, keep on reading.

We’re halfway through 2021, so I’m going to assume that most of you reading this article have some idea of what cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are about, but I want to talk a little bit about how they work so we can begin to wrap our heads around the “Can your Tesla pay for itself?” problem.

Cryptocurrencies work using a technology called “blockchain”, which is pretty much what it says on the tin. You have a “block” of code that has to be processed, and that “block” of code sort of “locks” into place with the block before it in a sort of “chain” of blocks. That’s overly simple, but it gets us to the “crypto” part of cryptocurrency, which is in the hashing.

See, at the end of each block of code is a given value, and that value is then “hashed”, or turned into another value, by a fancy bit of math called a hashing algorithm. If it’s done right, hashing creates a way to compare and verify that examples of the previous code are the same, but not a way to go any further back. It’s a one-way street, in other words, that makes going back and making changes nearly impossible, which is what makes blockchain an attractive technology for companies like Volvo, who use the immutable blockchain records to establish the provenance of the rare-Earth compounds used in their EV batteries and ensure that they’re “ethically” and “sustainably” sourced.

As more and more blocks are added and the blockchain gets longer, there’s more information to calculate and “hash”, basically, and it takes lots of computing power to do that quickly. Lots of computing power typically needs lots of electricity to run, too, and electricity can get pretty expensive pretty quickly … if only we had access to a powerful computer and plentiful, virtually free electricity at the same time.

Tesla hasn’t published the hash rate for its Hardware 3.0 Full Self Driving Chip, but they have told us that the processor is about 21x faster than the NVIDIA Xavier-based chips it’s replacing, so we have some (admittedly, dubious) benchmarks we can try to pull numbers from.

A few of the guys on the NVIDIA developer forums have made the point that the Xavier AGX “is more or less comparable to an NVIDIA GTX1050/1050”, which has a hash rate of about 20, according to Miner Monitoring, a site that helps crypto miners plan out their computer builds. So, if the in-house Tesla chip is about 20 times faster, that would give it a hash rate of 400.

Four-hundred sounds like a lot, so let’s keep going.

The next thing we’ll need is access to electricity. Lots of electricity, and – ideally – lots of electricity that we wouldn’t have to pay for. That’s where the Tesla Supercharger Network comes into the picture.

Tesla claims its Superchargers deliver a consistent 72 Kw of energy in most urban areas. Next, consider that, in the early days of the Tesla Model S rollout, back when six-figure quarterly delivery numbers seemed like they were a long, long way off, Tesla offered Model S owners unlimited access to free charging at their high-speed Supercharger network. The plan was called “Unlimited Free Supercharging”, and was listed as option code SC01 for total, no-restriction access (if you bought a used Tesla, you can see if you have it by going to your My Tesla User Account and selecting “Manage”, then “View Details”, then searching for SC01).

This isn’t exactly “free” energy, then – but it’s free to you, and that’s what matters for the purposes of this poorly conceived thought exercise, right? Right!

So, we have a hash rate of about 400 and, assuming we were clever enough to buy a used Tesla with Unlimited Free Supercharging, we should be able to do some quick math and see that, at about $33,500 per Bitcoin (give or take) we’ll make … hmm.

At a profit of less than a penny per month, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get far with Bitcoin – but switching the crypto asset to Etherium (another popular crypto that’s much more energy-efficient than the OG Bitcoin) changes things dramatically.

With a hash rate of 400 and using all the free juice we can pull from Ol’ Musky’s network, it looks like we’re looking at a tick over $680 per month – assuming that, you know, you keep your Tesla parked at a supercharger 24/7.

In other words, then: It can’t be done, and not the least of which because the Teslas equipped with the chip in question never came with Unlimited Free Supercharging, but also because Tesla hasn’t (and probably never will) make its chips available to be used for the task of mining, anyway. So, it seems like this idea is doomed to fail. Obviously stupid and immediately dismissible without a second thought — and I’d totally agree with you … except it seems like someone may have made this work.

What you’ll be looking at when you click the next link is a Tesla Model S trunk that’s been stuffed with GPU connectors and wires and fans (the GPUs aren’t installed, in this photo) to become a sort of rolling cryptocurrency mine. The linked photo is from the Tesla Owners Worldwide Facebook group and surfaced way back in November of 2017, when Bitcoin prices were hovering around $8,000, and the images made the rounds of the crypto and EV websites around the same time.

Some speculated that, because there are no ASIC chips in the photo and the GPUs aren’t connected to the power risers the way one might expect, that the car was a hoax and that these pictures were posted to troll the boards – if that’s true, then mission accomplished. We’re still talking about it four years later … except that two things have changed. The first is that the cost of a used Tesla Model S has come down significantly, and the second is that cryptocurrencies have, by and large, more than tripled in value since this rig was shown off in 2017.

So, even if it’s not real –would it work? Let’s ignore any questions about the ethical liabilities of using the Supercharging network for unintended purposes for a while –at least until Elon gets to Mars, amiright? –and focus on some really basic numbers. If you could get 4 Antminer L3+ rigs in that same space, each running at about 504 mH/s, that would get you close to $860/mo., based on the most optimistic scenarios of full power, 100 percent connectivity rate, etc.

So, no, even in fantasy land this wouldn’t enable your Tesla to pay for itself – but if you were somehow able to park a rig like this at an unlimited fast-charger for a few hours a day? Five days a week? It certainly wouldn’t pay off your car, but it might be enough to pay your car insurance bill … which you’ll want to keep on top of, because I can’t imagine all these wires and fans running at full capacity in a poorly ventilated trunk will make a Tesla less of a fire hazard!

Don’t try this one at home, kids.

[Images: Tesla, Screenshots from Cryptocompare.com]

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11 Comments on “Using Your Tesla to Mine Bitcoin is a No-Go...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Uhhhhhhhhhh…okay?

  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    I have never read an automotive article that confused me more than this one. Even the old “turbo encabulator” video seemed to process a little better in my head.

  • avatar
    Cicero

    I’m not really sure what was said here but it has given me hope that one day I’ll replace my full-time income by running my toaster 24/7.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    If Volvo has a serious ethical problem in the sourcing of raw materials, will adding blockchain on top make it go away? If the problem is fixable via blockchain, that implies that the problem is forgery of records. There are a number of other ways to address forgery that don’t involve blockchain.

    What I suspect is that the problem is not actually forgery of records, but fraudulent entry of records. Which blockchain doesn’t seem to fix.

    What blockchain might do is add a veneer of respectability to transactions, allowing Volvo to assume their supplies are ethical, while ignoring the underlying potential for fraud. “Garbage in, gospel out.”

    And it will add an energy cost to every transaction, which may undermine sustainability goals. (Hard to say what the energy use of an alternative verification process would be.)

    On this line of thought, while blockchain seems environmentally unsound in general, there are two scenarios where I think it makes economic sense. And in one of those scenarios, it may make a limited amount of environmental sense.

    The first scenario is where people do blockchain hashing (usually Bitcoin) using “free” (read: stolen) electricity. This could be the Tesla Supercharger scam mentioned here, or electricity siphoned from a state-run coal or hydroelectric plant in China or Iran, or an illegal clandestine installation inside an existing warehouse in the UK or Iceland, or other scams we haven’t yet dreamed up.

    The second scenario, which might make economic sense and maybe even environmental sense, is to take a large building in a northern climate, that already has a high heating load. Examples would include a skyscraper or indoor stadium. Swap out heating coils for mining rigs and let the computers generate hashes while they generate heat. This includes some risk as a large operation like this presumably cannot steal its electricity without being noticed. (Unless a “public-private partnership” gets set up, then it’s “ok”.) The environmental costs will be minimized by replacing an existing source of electricity demand, though the cost may still increase because GPUs will require more frequent replacement than heating coils (which rarely go obsolete).

    https://www.economist.com/china/2021/07/10/deep-in-rural-china-bitcoin-miners-are-packing-up
    https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/26/iran-bans-bitcoin-mining-as-its-cities-suffer-blackouts.html
    https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/28/bitcoin-mine-discovered-by-uk-police-on-cannabis-farm-raid-.html
    https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/11/the-big-bitcoin-heist

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I have to believe one’s Tesla solar roof “money printer” and Tesla robotaxi are far more effective at generating income. Just like the fleet of Tesla Semi trucks that carry the batteries and power units from Sparks to Fremont (downhill) and arrive with more charge than when they left, making the return trip essentially free.

  • avatar
    ravenuer

    I know I’m an old guy, so I still have no idea what this means.

  • avatar

    Can someone explain in three sentences why I have to waste my time reading this long article? I worked on security software on mobile platforms so you keep it technical.

  • avatar
    mcs

    Running in-house developed software on a state-of-the-art GPU we have in-house, I’m looking at a meter right now that’s showing 1200W for a 400 MH/S ethereum rate vs. 7200W for the system you show. Also, the GPU isn’t getting pushed to its limit either. That would keep it alive much longer. The hosts are 7nm technology and the GPU is 12nm. Milspec chips and machine, so it can take a lot of abuse. It’s not used for serious mining. Just as a test machine for the software. The mining software is more efficient than what’s normally available because it’s more closely bound to the hardware it’s running on.

    I have other devices that are much more powerful. They have about 32mb of 38 terabyte/second HBM2 memory on-chip and about 64GB of 77GB/s memory off-chip, which isn’t too, too slow. I think the GDDR6 on GPUs is only 14-16GB/s. Unlike a GPU, these devices don’t require the host to talk to ethernet. I’m more focused on quantitative trading which leverages my AI technology and really haven’t had time to focus on crypto. I do have internally developed mining software for several algorithms, but no time or manpower to port it. I might do it if I have a cash crunch though. With those devices, I could probably blow the numbers in the article totally out of the water. Of course, as you can imagine, with HBM2 memory, they are expensive with each accelerator card costing 5 figures, so not practical to add to a vehicle.

  • avatar
    RHD

    This article was so boring it kept even the Russian trollbot posters away.

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