The cryptocurrency mining process is very power consuming. May be that is an understatement. It was estimated that the total amount of electricity used to mine bitcoin in the entire year of 2017 was at par with the amount of electricity used by Ireland that year. That unusual fact does make one curious – the total amount of electricity used to mine bitcoin last year was 37 tera watts!
With the rising popularity of cryptocurrencies, this figure is bound to go up, and there are serious concerns about how the mining process of cryptocurencies is damaging our environment. However, does that necessarily mean that bitcoin mining is contributing enormously to the carbon emissions, and is a threat to the already degrading environment?
Kelly Pitou did a feature in the magazine, The Conservation, where she addresses the question. Kelly is a researcher of clean energy technologies who says that the discussion around bitcoin, energy and carbon emissions are “oversimplified.”
Lets look in to the matter a little more closely.
Last year around 37 tera watts hour of energy was used to mine bitcoin. We can see that over these past few months, the energy used to mine bitcoin has risen pretty drastically. After 8 months, it now stands at around 75 tera watts hours. That is almost double of what was expended last year and is comparable to the total energy used by Austria per year.
As such 90% of the amount of expenditure required to mine a bitcoin comes from paying for the electricity it uses.
The total amount of energy consumption of the world stands at around 22,000 tera watts hours. Considering that, the share of bitcoin mining is only 0.33%.
Now, how is Bitcoin mining likely to be not a major threat to the environment?
“Electricity production can increase while still maintaining a minimal impact on the environment. Rather than focusing on how much energy bitcoin uses, the discussion should center around who indeed is producing it – and where their power comes from.”
The percentage of bitcoin energy consumption out of the total world’s energy consumption is very small (0.33%) however, if this energy came purely from the burning of fossil fuels, it would truly be something to worry about. About 50% of the bitcoin mining is done in China where 60% of the energy comes from burning coal. That would mean over 30% of the energy used to mine bitcoin comes from coal. What about the rest?
Bitcoin mining being done in areas like the Pacific Northwest, Oregon, Sweden, Switzerland are not powered by energy from fossil fuels. Bitcoin mining is also increasingly becoming popular in Iceland, which depends entirely on renewable energy and is seeing a rise in bitcoin mining farms. Argon, a Swedish bitcoin mining company has its mining farms in Canada where they are powered by hydro-electricity – a renewable form of energy. Kelly exclaims:
An abundant supply of geothermal and hydropower energy makes bitcoiners’ power demand cheap and nearly irrelevant.
“Rather than discussing the energy consumption of bitcoin generally, people should be discussing the carbon production of bitcoin, and understanding whether certain mining towns are adding to an already large environmental burden.”
On which she continues:
I’m not aware of any studies that actually calculate the comparative carbon footprint of the bitcoin process.
However, according to the Digiconomist, the annual carbon footprint of mining bitcoin is 35,830 kilo tonnes of carbon dioxide. Last year the total carbon emission was 32.5 giga tonnes. Likely a small percentage of that came from bitcoin.
Cryptocurrency mining is increasing throughout the world, as is the energy consumption of the world. To protect the globe from the dangers of climate change and greenhouse gases, any environmentalist would press on going green – use of renewable resources. As for the mining industry, Kelly says:
“So far, it seems that only miners are currently shifting toward cleaner parts of the world. So perhaps people should quit criticizing bitcoin for its energy intensity and start criticizing states and nations for still providing new industries with dirty power supplies instead.”
Many of the facts and figures were taken and calculated from Digiconomist.