The detrimental implications to the environment of mining Bitcoin and several other cryptocurrencies have long been looming over our heads, however Dr. Katrina M. Kelly-Pitou, Research Associate at the University of Pittsburgh and Manager of strategy and business development for the Center for Energy in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has come to the conclusion that mining crypto is not as injurious to the state of our environment as it is often stated. Dr. Katrina studies clean energy technology, focusing on the ways to produce energy with lesser carbon print. She talked about how people are incessantly concerned about the environmental damage mining crypto is causing rather than focusing on better ways to produce electricity to power the mining rigs. She said,
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.
Katrina also mentioned that the newer tech hardware often require a ton of processing power. This includes data centers, trains, planes and automobiles as well. Even without the inclusion of the energy being spent on mining crypto, the cost of using these computers is too high. Admittedly, researchers are trying to replace these high consumption with lower ones.
Mining Bitcoin can be arduous. The more are found, the harder it becomes to accumulate the rest. With increased complexity, the processing power required to mine them also increases. Katrina also mentioned that electricity is ‘90%’ the cost to mine Bitcoin. In 2017, an estimated 30 terawatt of power was attributed to mining Bitcoin and that is equivalent to the amount required to power the entire nation of Ireland in one year. Apparently, the banks all over the world consume more power and this is what she had to say about that,
Banking consumes an estimated 100 terrawatts of power annually. If bitcoin technology were to mature by more than 100 times its current market size, it would still equal only 2 percent of all energy consumption.
The use of renewable energy to mine Bitcoin is aggressively being adopted all over the world. The countries that require noteworthy mention are Switzerland and Iceland. Iceland relies on the renewable sources to power the entire country. One of the reasons that make it an ideal bitcoin mining center is that they have resources to derive the geothermal as well as hydropower energy. All these eco-friendly resources ensure that a minimum amount of carbon print is released into the environment.
That being said, there are still countries which heavily rely on fossil and coal based electricity sources. Usage of these resources is aiding global warming excessively. Among these countries is China. China is the world’s largest generator of carbon emissions. It is imperative that China take action to minimize the greenhouse emissions as much of the technology is imported from it, namely Bitmain.
Most importantly, Katrina laid emphasis on how the researchers should stop worrying about how much energy Bitcoin is consuming and start evaluating the general consumption and the sources from which electricity is being produced. The global energy consumption has seen a massive surge and this will keep on increasing in the years to come. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the energy consumption will only increase by 28% in the upcoming two decades. She also mentioned how this increase will have unduly unfavorable effects only if the masses don’t start relying on the renewable sources of energy.
The discussion about energy consumption and bitcoin is, I believe, unfair without discussing the energy intensity of new technologies overall, specifically in data centers.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.
All in all, bitcoin is not the sole consumer that should be implicated with blame. It is a new technology having high utility. Rather, the technologists should direct their technological development towards introducing tech that would help optimize electricity consumption as well as incorporate power generated from renewable sources only.