Assessing the environmental impact of crypto mining

Gold Rush

Article from Issue 258/2022
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With climate change wreaking havoc across the planet, we were just beginning to think about how we could use our technology to conserve fuel and reduce our carbon footprint. Then along came crypto mining.

A study of power consumption in IT would not be complete without a look at one of the biggest offenders – and at a problem that has grown exponentially in recent years: cryptocurrencies. To the user, cryptocurrencies are an efficient, decentralized way to send money around the world, but behind the scenes, the infrastructure that supports crypto mining is consuming power at an alarming rate.

Bitcoin mining alone consumes approximately 91 terawatt-hours of electricity per year [1]. A single US home uses approximately 11,000 kilowatt-hours per year, which means that bitcoin mining consumes as much energy as 8 million homes – more than seven times the total amount of used by Google – and that number is growing every year as Bitcoin gains popularity. According to a recent study [2], if you take the total energy cost of bitcoin mining divided by the total number of bitcoin transactions, every bitcoin purchase has an energy cost of over $100 – even if you're just buying coffee or flagging an Uber.

And keep in mind that Bitcoin is only one of several competing crypto technologies. Overall, the electricity used for crypto mining is about half a percent of all electricity used across the globe (or the same amount of energy used to power the state of Washington for a year). That number has increased by a factor of 10 over the past five years. Obviously, this level of power usage is not sustainable – especially if cryptocurrency becomes the dominant form of currency exchange, as some experts predict.

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