Of all the objections to Bitcoin, the objection that it “wastes” electricity is the most absurd. This thinking betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how electricity works, how markets work, and what waste is.
Electricity is a real time service. It is transmitted by specialist companies, through either Solar, Nuclear, Wind, Coal or Water generation. When these services produce electricity, the consumers of it draw it in real time, and pay for it per kilowatt-hour, the unit used to measure quantities of electricity. Electricity is used for many purposes; cooking, entertainment (TV/Internet) and now cars run on stored electricity supplied by generating companies.
Whatever use you choose to put the electricity you pay for to, if you are satisfied, then the electricity has not been wasted. Furthermore, and this is most important; the electricity you consume could never have been used by anyone else after consumption. It is used once, and then it is gone. Electricity isn't a physical good like water that is pumped down a pipe to you. It is weightless*, and not physical at all.
Once you draw mains electricity into your devices and its consumed, it can never be sent back or re-purposed; it is a stream that is irreversible. That electricity could only ever have been used by you, and since you pay for it at the agreed rate, how you use it is nobody’s business but yours. There is no difference between a consumer choosing to heat their outdoor swimming pool to 90°F in winter with electricity and a Bitcoin miner performing Proof of Work calculations. Waste is subjective with electricity, which is an intangible service, not a physical product.
Compare and contrast electricity usage with wasteful packaging. Here are some examples
All of these pitiful images are examples of actual waste, because the packaging was objectively unnecessary, and the physical matter of the packaging persists after the job they were used for is done, unlike electricity, which is literally consumed in total. They are all clearly irrational. In each of the above cases, the product could have been safely delivered intact without the elaborate packaging, with less left over material — waste. This is very different to electricity, because physical resources are consumed that the consumer did not ask for or need. And yes, this really does need to be spelled out, because some people think that Bitcoin mining “wastes electricity”.
Bitcoin miners do not consume electricity carelessly or extravagantly and certainly not to no purpose. If you depend on dictionary definitions as your basis for reality, Bitcoin mining does not fit the description of a wasteful activity at all. Note how the example Google provides of the word in use, is… “wasteful energy consumption”. I smell propaganda!
As I've explained many times when writing about Bitcoin, it is crucial that people use English correctly when talking about it, otherwise, confusion is spread, and people get hurt. There is nothing wrong with efficiency as a goal, but it is not correct to categorize other people’s consumption of a good or service as right or wrong. As long as they are paying for the service they consume, its up to them how they consume those services, and of course, electricity is a service, not a good, that produces no waste.
You may try to make the argument that the heat produced by Bitcoin mining is “wasted energy” but you will fail. No Bitcoin miner wants to have the electricity they consume turned into heat; they want it to be turned into Bitcoin; the heat their rigs produce (and dispersing it) is a cost of business that they all accept. If a new, more efficient type of integrated circuit that mined without producing a lot of heat came on to the market, rational miners would switch to it for the power savings and increased profits. The market encourages participants to strive for efficiency. Bitcoin miners are not stupid….oh wait, BU.
The next time someone tells you that Bitcoin mining wastes electricity, you can now explain to them why this is not so. There is no “better use that that electricity could have been put to”. Electricity doesn't work like that. And don’t be too harsh on them either. Many people don’t know how electricity works!
*People keep commenting that electrons are not actually weightless. If you were planning to make this comment, especially citing the actual mass of an electron, (0.000548597 a.m.u. or 9.1 x 10-³¹ kg), well done. You're paying close attention when you read. Everyone should read carefully with their guard up!
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