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Jack Dorsey’s Block Backs Bitcoin Mining Company That Wants to Bring 25-Cent Electricity to Rural Africa

  • Jack Dorsey’s digital payments firm Block and Alyse Killeen’s bitcoin-focused venture firm Stillmark, have led a $2 million seed investment into Gridless.
  • Gridless designs, builds and operates bitcoin mining sites alongside small-scale renewable energy producers in rural Africa where excess energy is not utilized. 

ACCRA, GHANA — Up until February, Janet Maingi didn’t think much about bitcoin. Born and raised in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, Maingi had instead spent more than twenty years focused on trying to solve one of Africa’s biggest problems: connectivity. To that end, she spent more than 20 years working in operations in the telecom industry, in companies specializing in internet and wireless networks to cable and satellite television. But earlier this year, the 45-year-old mother decided to take on the continent’s second-biggest issue: Its energy problem.

Africa is a renewable energy mecca. There’s an estimated 10 terawatts of solar capacity, 350 gigawatts of hydro, and another 110 gigawatts of wind, according to data from Energy, Capital & Power, an investment platform focused on Africa’s energy sector. 

Some of this renewable energy is being harnessed already, but a lot of it isn’t, because it is expensive to build the kind of specialized infrastructure necessary to capture it. Even though Africa boasts 60% of the best solar resources globally, the continent only has 1% installed solar PV capacity, according to the International Energy Agency.

“When you sit back and look at rural Africa and rural Kenya, one of the things that is very prevalent in the homes — I am talking about the 50% that are not electrified — is children have to do their assignments using either paraffin lamps or candles,” Maingi told CNBC on the sidelines of the Africa Bitcoin Conference in Accra.

“Think of their eyesight, think of their health,” she said.

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