Bitcoin Mining: How A lot Electrical energy It Takes and Why Folks Are Frightened

Tesla CEO Elon Musk rocked the crypto market in 2021 when he stated his firm would now not settle for bitcoin for car purchases. His reasoning needed to do with the big quantity of fossil fuel-generated power that is required to mine cryptocurrency. Musk has since taken a brand new tack, delivering Tesla Megapack batteries to a Texas bitcoin mining facility in May

Bitcoin, ethereum, dogecoin and different common cryptos reached document highs in 2021, as did crypto-reliant NFTs, elevating issues concerning the rising quantity of power wanted to mine the cash. Because the crypto markets crashed in 2022, crypto mining continued to eat roughly as much power as Argentina and to have a carbon footprint equal to that of Greece, in line with a analysis report titled “Revisiting bitcoin’s carbon footprint,” printed in February. Because the power invoice for crypto mining rises, so does the quantity of carbon and waste, including to the rising local weather disaster. 

Here is what you might want to find out about crypto mining and its power makes use of. 

What’s crypto mining? 

When bitcoins are traded, computer systems throughout the globe race to finish a computation that creates a 64-digit hexadecimal quantity, or hash, for that bitcoin. This hash goes right into a public ledger so anybody can verify that the transaction for that exact bitcoin occurred. The pc that solves the computation first will get a reward of 6.2 bitcoins, or about $134,000 at present costs. 

Different cryptocurrencies and NFTs use related mining applied sciences, contributing to the general power utilization. 

What’s a crypto mining rig? 

It is a barebones laptop with a number of graphics playing cards, or GPUs, as an alternative of the single-card normal, and it does the work to finish a computation. Rigs often use highly effective GPUs from Nvidia and AMD to deal with calculations and require high-wattage energy provides. The recognition of mining led to a shortage of graphics cards, which in flip precipitated their values to rise. 

A crypto mining farm, in shades of green and blue, in Nadvoitsy, Russia.

A crypto mining farm in Nadvoitsy, Russia. 

Getty Pictures

Why is crypto mining so energy-intensive? 

For starters, graphics playing cards on mining rigs work 24 hours a day. That takes up much more energy than searching the web. A rig with three GPUs can eat 1,000 watts of energy or extra when it is working, the equal of getting a medium-size window AC unit turned on. 

Crypto mining companies can have tons of and even hundreds of rigs in a single location. A mining heart in Kazakhstan is provided to run 50,000 mining rigs, and one other mining farm in China has a monthly electricity bill of more than $1 million as it mines 750 bitcoins a month

Not solely do rigs take up energy, additionally they generate warmth. The extra rigs you’ve gotten, the warmer it will get. If you don’t need your rigs to soften, you want some cooling. Many mining rigs have a number of built-in laptop followers. However when you have a number of rigs, the room shortly will get sizzling, requiring exterior cooling. Small operations, like these run by people, can get by with a typical standing fan. Mining facilities, nevertheless, want much more cooling, which in flip requires much more electrical energy. 

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How much energy does mining take? 

The Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index estimated that one bitcoin transaction takes 1,449 kWh to complete, or the equivalent of approximately 50 days of power for the average US household. 

To put that into money terms, the average cost per kWh in the US is close to 12 cents. That means a bitcoin transaction would generate approximately an energy bill of $173. 

Bitcoin mining uses around as much energy as Argentina, according to the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, and at that annualized level of 131.26 terawatt-hours, crypto mining would be in the top 30 of countries based on energy consumption. 

Energy consumption for bitcoin mining was at its highest at the end of 2021 and the early months of 2022, consuming more than 200 terawatt-hours. 

A wall of crypto mining rigs

A wall of mining rigs in Quebec, Canada.

Getty Images

Why is using so much energy bad for the environment? 

Fossil fuels account for more than 60% of the energy sources in the US. A majority of that percentage is natural gas and a minority is coal. The carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuels is released into the atmosphere, where it absorbs heat from the sun and causes the greenhouse effect

As mining rigs consume more energy, nearby power plants must produce more electricity to compensate, which raises the likelihood that more fossil fuels will be used. States that have struggling coal power plants, such as Montana, New York and Kentucky, are trying to cash in by wooing crypto mining companies. 

There’s also the issue of electronic waste. This can include broken computers, wires and other equipment no longer needed by the mining facility. Bitcoin mining’s electronic waste is 34 kilotons, or comparable to the amount produced by the Netherlands. 

What’s being done about this energy problem? 

Not much. The 3rd Global Cryptoasset Benchmarking Study from the University of Cambridge found that 70% of miners based their decision on what coin to mine on the daily reward amount. Energy consumption made up only 30% of their choice. 

Access to renewable energy at a low price, however, attracts crypto miners. China’s Sichuan Province has the country’s second-largest number of miners due to its abundance of cheap hydroelectric power. Its rainy season helps to generate so much energy that cities are looking for blockchain firms to relocate in order to avoid wasting power. Due to worries about energy shortages, China cracked down on bitcoin mining facilities in late 2021, but the farms went underground and rebounded

The operators of ethereum, the second most popular and energy-consuming blockchain behind bitcoin, are doing something to change the amount of energy its miners consume. Ethereum 2.0 is an upgrade being tested now. Instead of computers trying to solve computations — referred to as proof-of-work protocol — computers will be randomly selected to create blocks for the blockchain, while computers that weren’t selected will validate those blocks created. 

To ensure miners do their job, each miner has to stake 32 ether coins, which is equivalent to $47,000, hence the term for this protocol: proof of stake. This change should reduce the amount of energy needed for ethereum mining by 99.95%. Ethereum is set to transition to the new protocol on Sept. 19, but that date is not final. 

What other cryptos are more energy-efficient than bitcoin?

A growing number of coins — there are more than 19,000 of them — use the proof-of-stake protocol that ethereum 2.0 will transition to, resulting in a drop in power consumption. 

Cardano, for example, uses its own proof-of-stake protocol and consumed 6 gigawatt-hours in 2021. Chia is another coin with a low-energy approach called the proof-of-space protocol. Instead of requiring intensive computation, Chia requires farmers to allocate space on a computer’s hard drive, called “plots,” that will be called upon by the blockchain based on certain factors. 

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