A New Study Has Shed A Surprising Light On the Environmental Impact Of Bitcoin
t's pretty easy to look at the wider tech scene, with all of its Teslas, solar-powered office buildings, and environmental initiatives, and simply assume that despite its vast scale, it's actually doing its best to make sure that it's leaving a fairly shallow imprint in the environment that surrounds it. And to an extent, that's true. So when you turn your attention to something that was built and is run exclusively online, Bitcoin, for instance, you'd be forgiven for thinking that even if it ruins people financially, at least it's not posing too much of a risk to anything else outside of cyberspace.
But that's not necessarily the case. According to a new study from Cambridge University, the cryptocurrency is actually one of the internet's biggest users of power overall, and it's shed an interesting light on the real-world impacts that some of our biggest online ventures are actually having.
Researchers at Cambridge's Centre for Alternative Finance have actually taken the step of establishing the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, a live-monitor that actually tracks the total power usage of all bitcoin miners, networks and maintenance systems globally at any given time. As it turns out, the energy requirements to run a venture like bitcoin are vast: in a worst case scenario, the network would use about 148.87 terawatt-hours of electricity, which is roughly enough to power every American device on standby for four years.
On average, which the researchers have come to based on the mean efficiency of miners and hardware across the bitcoin network, the Bitcoin market globally is expected to run up an annual use of 59.19TWh, which is roughly between the annual energy use of Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
As pointed out by Cambridge, this estimate "could power all European tea kettles used to boil water for a year, or satisfy the energy needs of the University of Cambridge for 365 years." Bitcoin is estimated to use roughly 0.2% of all global electricity produced right now.
Thankfully, the majority of the Bitcoin scene, when run on an industrial scale, is actually quite in-league with the environmental movement. Silicon Valley being Silicon Valley and all that. This means that despite using a lot of energy, it's actually having a fairly negligible net impact on the environment. But there are many networks that rival bitcoin's scale worldwide, and it's hard to say just how much dirty power is going into keeping these alive.
"There is currently little evidence suggesting that Bitcoin directly contributes to climate change," the authors of the study wrote. "Even when assuming that Bitcoin mining was exclusively powered by coal - a very unrealistic scenario given that a non-trivial number of facilities run exclusively on renewables - total carbon dioxide emissions would not exceed 58 million tons of CO2, which would roughly correspond to 0.17 percent of the world’s total emissions."