The Environmental Impact of Bitcoin

An often discussed topic — Bitcoin’s carbon footprint, energy consumption, potential solutions and more

The rising popularity of cryptocurrencies has brought forward the question of sustainability of crypto technology. Especially Bitcoin has been getting a lot of negative attention because of its enormous energy consumption and subsequent carbon footprint. This article explores the data surrounding this topic and meditates on possible solutions to emerging problems.

Let’s firstly look at the Bitcoin’s total energy consumption:

As you can see, the graph keeps steadily rising, reaching all-time highs in the last few months.

And what does Bitcoin need all this energy for? BTC, similarly to other cryptocurrencies using proof-of-work consensus mechanism, uses the energy to solve computational problems in the process of mining. As the price of BTC rises and more people try to mine Bitcoin, the difficulty of the problems increases, requiring miners to use better/more hardware (which consumes more energy). That is also the reason why the total energy consumption keeps on increasing.

Bitcoin’s footprints per year — meaning carbon footprint, consumption of electric energy, and electronic waste produced — are shown below:

Bitcoin’s numbers are comparable to those of smaller countries — definitely not small.

Similarly interesting are also these facts resulting from averaging data on single Bitcoin transaction:

Last but not least, we can take look at the electricity mix of Bitcoin’s network over time:

Renewable energy makes up a big portion of the electricity sources, however, as seen in the graph, its share has been decreasing.

From all the data shown above, it is clear that Bitcoin has an energy and environmental problem. Although there exist alternative cryptocurrencies running only on a fraction of Bitcoin’s energy (e.g. because they are using a different consensus protocol), BTC is undoubtedly the foundation of crypto world and as such, there should exist an incentive to solve this issue.

Firstly, Bitcoin miners need constant input of energy, meaning they can’t join the electric grid only from time to time when there is an excess energy from renewables. Fossil fuels tend to provide more stable power output, so miners often time end up using electricity generated by them. However, this leads to the idea that if more of the grid as a whole was powered by sustainable energy sources, the miners too would end up using renewable energy for at least majority of the time.

Secondly, nuclear energy is not exactly renewable, but can definitely be seen as a clean alternative to oil, coal or gas. Therefore, pushing towards more nuclear power plants and their better effectivity (while not neglecting safety of course) could be an elegant way to reduce Bitcoin’s carbon footprint as well as provide the grid with enough additional energy the mining could ever require.

Last but not least, a report from Lancium suggests that adding some kind of flexible datacenter/BTC mine could actually result in reduced use of fossil fuels and therefore carbon emissions. Then the question becomes not whether or not should new mines be even built, but rather how can they be implemented intelligently. A pretty interesting find in my opinion, which could result in sort of a win-win situation.

Credits

  • The data shown in the article were gathered by Digieconomist, so I recommend checking them out as well.

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Marek Holovský

Marek Holovský

Undergrad student, crypto and blockchain enthusiast working for Crypto Hunters. I write stories.

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