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May 21, 2018

How much energy does Bitcoin mining require? Experts are unsure

by John_A

How much energy does crypto mining really use? One recently released study conducted by Alex de Vries says that Bitcoin mining consumes 24 THw of energy or as much as Ireland. To make matters worse, the study estimates that Bitcoin’s energy use is doubling every six months. By the end of 2018, Bitcoin could use as much as 67 THw or the annual energy consumption of the Czech Republic.

While those numbers might seem high, things may not be as bad as they sound. For starters, one of the main issues with Bitcoin mining is that it was originally powered in large part by coal plants in China. In recent years, however, China has worked to rein in its pollution problem, and many Bitcoin mining operations have moved to countries which make use of cleaner energy.

Another issue is the matter of distribution. Comparing Bitcoin’s energy usage to countries such as Ireland or the Czech Republic is useful to help visualize the scope of their operations, but that doesn’t tell the full story. Bitcoin mining can happen from anywhere in the world so no one country’s infrastructure is bearing the brunt of the cost.

Beyond that, there are numerous experts who dispute this study’s findings. Jonathan Koomey, a professor at Stanford who, in the 1990s, disproved similar fears about the internet, says there simply isn’t enough data available to draw conclusions.

“For two decades, people have been eager to overestimate electricity use by computing,” Koomey told NBC News. “My concern is that we simply don’t have adequate data to come to the strong conclusions that he’s coming to.”

One of the issues Koomey points out is that it is difficult to determine how the value of the energy used in Bitcoin mining and the price paid for that energy. He is unsure of where de Vries is getting the two numbers he uses for those values.

“The worry is that those are two numbers that are picked out of the air,” said Koomey. “There may be some basis for them, but it’s a very unreliable way to do these kinds of calculations, and nobody who does this for a living would do it like that. It’s odd that someone would.”

The other issue is the accessibility of Bitcoin data. Many Bitcoin miners are concerned about their privacy which can make it difficult to accurately determine how much energy is used.

The mining of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies does consume a fair amount of energy, but it’s unclear as to exactly how much.

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