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
Insights
Residents stand in a long queue to fill water containers on May 27 in Shimla, India. Deepak Sansta / Hindustan Times / Getty Images

World Peace Requires Access to Safe Water

International Peace Day is Sept. 21. Mekela Panditharatne, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, submitted the following op-ed to EcoWatch in commemoration.

In drought-ravaged East Africa, the cracks in the plains echo the fault lines splitting tribes.

Across the globe, the devastation of deadly brawls is being exacerbated by tensions over access to water. Water crises, often worsened by governance failures, can portend warning signs for instability and conflict. This year, the World Resources Institute cautioned that water stress is growing globally, "with 33 countries projected to face extremely high stress in 2040." The effects of such water stress span the gamut from civil unrest to open warfare.

Keep reading... Show less
Food

How Your Personality Type Could Influence Your Food Choices

By Melissa Kravitz

"You are what you eat" may be one of the oldest sayings ever to be repeated around the dinner table, but can you also eat what you are?

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
A child rides his bicycle in an area affected by the Hurricane Maria passing in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico on Oct. 5, 2017. RICARDO ARDUENGO / AFP / Getty Images

Hurricane Maria's Legacy: One Year Later

As Puerto Rico marked one year since Hurricane Maria made landfall yesterday, the Miami Herald this week ran extensive reports in English and Spanish on the island's continuing recovery.

Keep reading... Show less
Science
A foldable, biodegradable battery based on paper and bacteria. Seokheun Choi / Binghamton University, CC BY-ND

Could Paper Power the Next Generation of Devices?

By Seokheun Choi

It seems like every few months there's a new cellphone, laptop or tablet that is so exciting people line up around the block to get their hands on it. While the perpetual introduction of new, slightly more advanced electronics has made businesses like Apple hugely successful, the short shelf life of these electronics is bad for the environment.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Business
Blue Point Brewing Company

Long Island Brewer Launches 'Good Reef Ale' to Help Restore New York’s Oyster Reefs

Between the 1600s and the early 20th century, European settlers in New York City ate their way through 220,000 acres of oyster reefs covering 350 square miles, The Washington Post reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Oceans
California restaurants will only be able to serve plastic straws like these upon request. Horia Varlan / CC BY 2.0

California Becomes First State to Regulate Plastic Straws

California became the first state in the U.S. to ban plastic straws in dine-in restaurants Thursday when Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation to that effect, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The law, which will enter into force Jan. 1, prohibits restaurants from providing straws unless a customer requests one. It covers only sit-down eateries, not fast food restaurants, delis or coffee shops.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Giannis Giannakopoulos / YouTube

'Partying' Spiders Blanket Greek Beach on 1,000-Foot Cobweb

Arachnophobes beware. A shoreline by the Greek town of Aitoliko has been swamped by a mass of mating spiders and 1,000 feet of their cobwebs.

Earlier this week, a local named Giannis Giannakopoulos uploaded a YouTube video and posted several pictures of the spectacle on his Facebook page, showing shrubs, palm fronds and other greenery completely veiled by spider webs.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Frank Straub / EyeEm / Getty Images

Greenpeace Report: Europe Has 10 Years Left to Ditch Fossil Fuel Cars

Europe must phase out the sales of new gasoline- and diesel-fueled cars by 2028 if it wants to live up to its Paris climate agreement emissions-reduction pledges, according to new research by Germany's Aerospace Center.

Even conventional hybrid cars, which feature gasoline-powered engines, would have to disappear by the mid-2030s if Europe intends to fulfill its part of the Paris deal to limit global warming to 1.5°C, according to the Greenpeace-commissioned study.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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