Quantcast
Energy

Bitcoin Is Not Only Unaffordable, It's Also a Massive Energy Hog

Bitcoin's insane price hike to more than $15,000 on Thursday has left me thinking one thing: I'll never be able to afford these things, so why should I care?

But while bitcoin-money lines the pockets of early investors and digital currency speculators, the rest of the planet is suffering. As it turns out, bitcoin is sucking up a whole lot of energy.


According to Alex de Vries, who tracks the industry on the site Digiconomist, each bitcoin transaction consumes 250 kilowatt hours of power—or enough to run the average American household for about a week. In all, the entire bitcoin network consumes an estimated 32 terawatt-hours a year. That's more than the electricity consumption of at least 159 other countries, including Ireland and most African nations.

And the network isn't exactly running on clean, green renewables.

“Bitcoin's biggest problem is not even its massive energy consumption, but that the network is mostly fueled coal-fired power plants in China," De Vries noted.

So why does a bitcoin—a weightless digital currency you can't exactly hold or touch—consume so much energy?

Well, first you have to understand that the world has a finite supply of 21 million bitcoins. Then, to “mine" one of these bitcoins, a computer must solve a complex cryptographic puzzle. As the number of bitcoins dwindle, the puzzles get more and more challenging to solve, and thus these computers need more and more energy to run.

Companies mine bitcoins with large warehouses full of noisy, energy-sucking servers that are built just for the task. For instance, the coal-powered Ordos bitcoin mine in China consists of eight buildings filled with 25,000 mining machines. Their daily electricity bill costs a staggering $39,000.

Ultimately, if bitcoin or other digital cash forms become our mainstream currency as some predict, this could come at the peril of the planet's health.

Proponents, however, argue that bitcoin's environmental footprint doesn't have to continue on this upsetting trend. As Elaine Ou, a blockchain engineer at Global Financial Access, wrote:

What's more, bitcoin's consumption won't necessarily keep rising as it has. Data centers, for example, have gotten a lot better. Not long ago, the Department of Energy was predicting that their electricity use would double every five years, and Google was getting slammed for consuming enough to power 200,000 homes. In recent years, though, the centers' total electricity use has flattened even as their number has kept growing. As it turned out, better cooling and power management technology improved efficiency. Bitcoin miners are no less motivated by profit, so it stands to reason that they will seek to become more efficient and employ the cheapest energy available, which generally means hydroelectric plants and other renewable sources.

It's easy to criticize bitcoin for being wasteful. But so are many things in life, including airplanes, commuting to work and Sunday Night Football. A return to subsistence farming could drastically reduce our carbon footprint, but sometimes using energy to improve our quality of life is worthwhile.

Still, if bitcoin continues its exponential rise, we'll have to make this currency much greener soon.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Energy
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would cross the Greenbrier River in West Virginia. West Virginia Rivers Coalition / YouTube screenshot

Court Orders Atlantic Coast Pipeline Work Stoppage Over Impact on Endangered Species

Work on the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would carry fracked natural gas along a 600 mile route through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, has been halted by court order and may not resume for several months, The News & Observer reported Monday.

A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia ruled on Friday that work must stop on the pipeline until March, when courts are set to review federal permits that allow the pipeline to operate in the habitat of four endangered species, which wildlife advocates say were rushed.

Keep reading... Show less
Oceans
Researchers found that the response of corals to heat stress during the second of two unprecedentedback-to-back bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef was markedly different from the first. Tane Sinclair-Taylor

Great Barrier Reefs Resist Back-to-Back Bleaching Events Through ‘Ecological Memory’

The Great Barrier Reef has been hit hard by climate change. As waters warm, the higher ocean temperatures force the coral to expel the algae that lives inside of it, providing it with both its nutrients and its brilliant colors. If the water does not cool fast enough and the algae does not return, the coral dies.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Sit-in at Rep. Hoyer's office. Sunrise Movement

1,000+ Youth Activists Storm Capitol to Demand Green New Deal

More than 1,000 climate activists with the youth-led Sunrise Movement stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington and participated in sit-ins at Democratic leaders' offices on Monday.

The protesters demanded Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Jim McGovern support Rep-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's proposal of a "select committee" for a Green New Deal before the winter recess.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
The Stikine River runs through Wrangell, Alaska. Mining operations nearby threaten to poison fish in the Stikine watershed and destroy the traditions and livelihoods of Southeast Alaskan Tribes. Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Canada as Ugly Neighbor: Mines in BC Would Devastate Alaskan Tribes

By Ramin Pejan

Mining operations in Canada are threatening to destroy the way of life of Southeast Alaskan Tribes who were never consulted about the mines by the governments of Canada or British Columbia.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Business
Deforestation on peatland for palm oil plantation in Borneo, Indonesia. glennhurowitz / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

World's Largest Palm Oil Trader Ramps Up Zero-Deforestation Efforts

The world's largest palm oil trader released plans on Monday to increase its efforts to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain.

Wilmar International, which supplies 40 percent of the world's palm oil, has teamed up with the sustainability consultancy Aidenvironment Asia to develop a comprehensive mapping database to better monitor the company's palm oil supplier group.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
The Elkhorn Slough Reserve is one of California's few remaining coastal wetlands. Edmund Lowe Photography / Moment / Getty Images

New EPA Rule Would Sabotage Clean Water Act

By Jake Johnson

In a move environmentalists are warning will seriously endanger drinking water and wildlife nationwide, President Donald Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reportedly gearing up to hand yet another gift to big polluters by drastically curtailing the number of waterways and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
James Braund / Getty Images

40 Acres of Farm Land in America Is Lost to Development Every Hour

By Brian Barth

Picture bulldozers plowing up pastures and cornfields to put in subdivisions and strip malls. Add to this picture the fact that the average age of the American farmer is nearly 60—it's often retiring farmers that sell to real estate developers. They can afford to pay much more for property than aspiring young farmers.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy

60,000 Liters of Oil Spills From Pipeline Into Brazilian Bay

About 60,000 liters (15,850 gallons) of oil spilled from a pipeline into the Estrela River and spread to Rio de Janeiro's famed Guanabara Bay over the weekend, according to Reuters and local reports.

The pipeline is owned by Transpetro, the largest oil and gas transportation company in Brazil, and a subsidiary of Petroleo Brasileiro (commonly known as Petrobras). Transpetro claims the leak resulted from an attempted robbery.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!