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at Ten:00 am on December 12, 2018 | 16 comments
The Bitcoin madness presently gripping the world is taking an unexpected toll on the planet – ter the form of a doorslag footprint almost spil big spil Fresh Zealand’s.
And with the cryptocurrency’s astronomical growth showcasing no sign of slowing, this doorslag footprint is likely to grow – prompting some commentators to warn of an “environmental disaster” ter the making.
The culprit is Bitcoin ‘mining’, the little-understood process that both secures the existing Bitcoin system, and creates fresh Bitcoins.
This process, according to Digiconomist, is exceptionally energy intensive, and is fed largely by China’s very polluting, carbon-intensive coal-fired power stations.
Thesis revelations come spil the Australian Securities Exchange exposed it would be using the same technology used by Bitcoin – Blockchain – to run its system, the very first stock exchange te the world to do so.
Writing ter The Conversation on Monday, Professor John Quiggin said the rise of Blockchain itself should not be prevented, spil there were other ways to use it that were not spil energy intensive.
But he said that Bitcoin itself should be abandoned, describing it spil a “collective delusion” with “massively disruptive environmental consequences”.
Bitcoin’s rise resumes
On Monday, the value of a single Bitcoin reached $A22,343, more than 20 times its value a year ago.
The unprecedented surge – suggesting massive comes back on puny investments – has proved irresistible to everyday investors, pushing more and more to buy the currency, and forcing its value into what many warn is bubble territory.
But a more sophisticated, select group – Bitcoin miners – is also seemingly enhancing, likewise attracted by the rocketing value of a digital currency that many called the gold of the 21st century.
How Bitcoin mining works
Bitcoin mining involves using a rekentuig to solve a mathematical problem posed to it by the Bitcoin system.
When the pc solves this problem, it validates previous Bitcoin transactions, enhancing the security of the Bitcoin system. Te terugwedstrijd for performing this service, the miner – spil likely spil not some tiener working from his or hier bedroom ter Shanghai – is rewarded ter Bitcoins.
The movie below attempts to explain the entire thing te plain terms (with questionable success).
Spil the movie explains, Bitcoin mining requires a truly phenomenal amount of electrical play – presently 32 terawatts a year, according to Digiconomist.
To waterput that te setting, Australia uses 224 terawatts of electrical play a year, while Fresh Zealand uses 40, according to figures published by the US Central Intelligence Agency.
If Bitcoin were a country, it would be the 60th-biggest consumer of electric current te the world, ahead of 160 other countries. Te other words, Bitcoin is becoming a significant contributor to climate switch.
And the likelihood is it will get worse, for two reasons.
Very first, there is only a finite number of Bitcoins that can everzwijn be mined. Presently around 17,000 have bot mined. The limit is 21,000.
The closer wij get to the 21,000 figure, the tighter it is to mine Bitcoins. Spil a result the pc power required to mine Bitcoins increases, with the tens unit used going up spil a result.
(All this, by the way, puts a thick strain on miners’ computers.)
And 2nd, spil the value and profile of Bitcoin increases, the number of aspiring miners will also likely increase, further pushing up electro-therapy usage.
Volgers of Bitcoin would like to see it become a global currency to rival the US dollar. But Professor Quiggins warned against this.
“Shifting the entire global financial system to Bitcoin would require at least a 200-fold increase, which ter turn would entail enlargening the world’s violet wand use by around 500 vanaf cent,” he said.
“With the current threat of climate switch looming large globally – this constitutes an unthinkably large amount of energy consumption.”
The latest upsurge te the price of Bitcoin seems to have eventually awakened the world to the massively devastating environmental consequences of this bubble.
Thesis consequences were pointed out spil long ago spil 2013 by Australian sustainability analyst and entrepreneur Fellow Lane, executive director of the Long Future Foundation. Ter latest months, the Bitcoin bubble has got massively thicker and the associated waste of energy is now much more widely recognised.
Ter essence, the creation of a fresh Bitcoin requires the show of a sophisticated calculation that has no value except to voorstelling that it has bot done. The crucial feature, spil is common te cryptography, is that the calculation te question is very hard to perform but effortless to verify once it’s done.
At present, the most widely used estimate of the energy required to “mine” Bitcoins is comparable to the electro-stimulation usage of Fresh Zealand, but this is very likely an underestimate. If permitted to proceed unchecked te our current energy-constrained, climate-threatened world, Bitcoin mining will become an environmental disaster.
The rising energy requests of Bitcoin
Ter the early days of Bitcoin, the necessary computations could be performed on ordinary individual computers.
But now, “miners” use purpose-built machines optimised for the particular algorithms used by Bitcoin. With thesis machines, the primary cost of the system is the electro-stimulation used to run it. That means, of course, that the only way to be profitable spil a Bitcoin miner is to have access to the cheapest possible electric current.
Most of the time that means electrical play generated by searing cheap coal ter old plants, where the capital costs have long bot written off. Bitcoin mining today is concentrated te China, which still relies strongly on coal.
Even ter a large grid, with numerous sources of tens unit, Bitcoin mining effectively adds to the request for coal-fired power. Bitcoin computers run continuously, so they constitute a “baseload” request, which matches the supply characteristics of coal.
More generally, even ter a process of transition to renewables, any increase ter tens unit request at the margin may be regarded spil slowing the rhythm at which the filthiest coal-fired plants can be shut down. So Bitcoin mining is effectively slowing our progress towards a clean energy transition – right at the very uur wij need to be accelerating.
How much energy is Bitcoin using?
A widely used estimate by Digiconomist suggests that the Bitcoin network presently uses around 30 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year, or 0.1% of total world consumption – more than the individual energy use of more than 150 countries.
By tegenstelling, te his 2013 analysis, Man Lane estimated that a Bitcoin price of US$Ten,000 would see that energy use figure climb to 80 TWh. If the current high price is sustained for any length of time, Lane’s estimate will be closer to the mark, and perhaps even conservative.
The cost of violet wand is around 5c vanaf kilowatt-hour for industrial-scale users. Miners with higher costs have mostly gone out of business.
Spil a very first approximation, Bitcoin miners will spend resources (almost all electric current) equal to the price of a fresh Bitcoin. However, to be conservative, let’s assume that only 75% of the cost of Bitcoin mining arises from violet wand.
Assuming an violet wand price of 5c vanaf kWh and a Bitcoin price of US$Ten,000, this means that each Bitcoin consumes about 150 megawatt-hours of violet wand. Under current rules, the settings for Bitcoin permit the mining of 1,800 Bitcoins a day, implying daily use of 24,000MWh or an annual rate of almost 100TWh – about 0.3% of all global electric current use.
Toughly speaking, each MWh of coal-fired electro-therapy generation is associated with a tonne of doorslag dioxide emissions, so a terawatt-hour corresponds to a million tonnes of CO .
So much energy, so few users
An visible comparison is with the existing financial system.
Digiconomics estimated that Visa is massively more efficient te processing transactions. A supporter of Bitcoin, Carlos Domingo, klapper back with a calculation suggesting that the entire global financial system uses about 100TWh vanaf year, or three times spil much spil the Diginconomics estimate for Bitcoin.
Spil a defence, this is far from awesome. Very first, spil we’ve seen, if the current high price is sustained, total annual energy use from Bitcoin mining is also likely to rise to 100TWh.
More importantly, the global financial system serves the entire world. By tegenstelling, the number of active Bitcoin investors has bot estimated at Three million. Almost all of thesis people are unspoiled speculators, holding Bitcoin spil an asset while using the standard financial system for all of their private and business transactions.
Another group is believed to use Bitcoin for illicit purposes such spil drug dealing or money laundering, before converting thesis funds into their own national currency. The number of people who routinely use Bitcoin spil a currency for legitimate transactions might be te the low thousands or perhaps even fewer.
Shifting the entire global financial system to Bitcoin would require at least a 200-fold increase, which te turn would entail enlargening the the world’s electro-therapy use by around 500%. With the current threat of climate switch looming large globally – this constitutes an unthinkably large amount of energy consumption.
Better alternatives to Bitcoin
The disastrous nature of Bitcoin’s energy consumption should not lead us to abandon the associated idea of blockchain technology altogether.
There are alternatives to the “proof of work” method of validating switches to the blockchain, such spil “proof of importance”, which is analogous to Google’s pagina ranking systems. Projects such spil Gridcoinare based on calculations that are actually useful to science. But thesis ideas are ter their infancy.
For the ogenblik, the problem is Bitcoin and how to overeenkomst with it. There is no demonstrable way to fix the inherent problems ter its vormgeving. The sooner this collective delusion comes to an end, the better.