Type Bitcoin Mining on any search bar and among the first things that will pop up are how it’s “power-hungry,” an “energy hog,” and essentially a threat to the environment.
But is it really?
Although mainstream media has been quick to pass judgment that cryptocurrency mining is detrimental to the environment, there have studies and research papers that contradict these FUDs. A paper in the Joule journal estimated that Bitcoin’s annual electricity consumption adds up to 45.8TWh as of November 2018, accounting for 0.2% of global electricity use.
A CoinShares study, however, pointed out that majority of the energy consumed by mining cryptocurrencies—as much as 74.1%—comes from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and hydropower, which makes Bitcoin mining is “more renewables-driven than almost every other large-scale industry in the world.”
CoinShares isn’t the first to dismiss the doom-and-gloom scenario painted by groups castigating cryptocurrency for its perceived environmental wastefulness. Dr. Katrina Kelly-Pitou, a research associate in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote an article for non-profit academic media outlet The Conversation in which she noted that the general narrative that portrayed cryptocurrency as an environmental risk is an oversimplification that leads to factual inaccuracies among mainstream readers.
As Kelly-Pitou pointed out, “I am a researcher who studies clean energy technology, specifically the transition toward decarbonized energy systems…New technologies—such as data centers, computers and before them trains, planes and automobiles—are often energy-intensive. Over time, all of these
have become more efficient, a natural progression of any technology: Saving energy equates to saving costs.”
In Bitcoin’s case, the systems get more efficient as usage grows. This means that the more people uses the network to transact, the more energy efficient Bitcoin system mining gets.
By restricting the discussion to Bitcoin mining’s energy consumption alone, the larger truth about energy and environmental concerns remain unaddressed. Kelly-Pitou noted: ““Like many other aspects of the energy industry, Bitcoin is not necessarily a ‘bad guy.’ It’s simply a new, and vaguely understood, industry. The discussion about energy consumption and bitcoin is, I believe, unfair without discussing the energy intensity of new technologies overall, specifically in data centers.”