POLAND - 2021/04/26: In this photo illustration a Bitcoin logo seen displayed on a smartphone with stock market percentages in the background. (Photo Illustration by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

1232552133

POLAND - 2021/04/26: In this photo illustration a Bitcoin logo seen displayed on a smartphone with stock market percentages in the background. (Photo Illustration by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Photo by: SOPA Images

SOPA Images

Wild Climate Ride Expected as Cryptocurrency Popularity Fuels Power Consumption

By: Robin Fearon

Bitcoin’s wild speculation and surging popularity has caused scientists and economic analysts to rate the digital cryptocurrency as a danger to the environment. More than 60% of Bitcoin’s mining cost is in the electricity it uses. And as its value rises, so does the entire currency’s energy consumption and its potential impact on climate change.

May 13, 2021

The value of one Bitcoin rocketed past $60,000, in April 2021, while only six months earlier the price sat around $10,500. News of entrepreneur Elon Musk’s billion-dollar investment in Bitcoin and anticipation of popular uptake in digital currencies fueled these huge price rises. While investors made merry, the electrical energy used by the network doubled.

A worker inspects hardware devices as illuminated mining rigs operate inside racks at the CryptoUniverse cryptocurrency mining farm in Nadvoitsy, Russia, on Thursday, March 18, 2021. The rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has prompted the greatest push yet among central banks to develop their own digital currencies. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images

1231902203

A worker inspects hardware devices as illuminated mining rigs operate inside racks at the CryptoUniverse cryptocurrency mining farm in Nadvoitsy, Russia, on Thursday, March 18, 2021. The rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has prompted the greatest push yet among central banks to develop their own digital currencies.

Photo by: Bloomberg

Bloomberg

A worker inspects hardware devices as illuminated mining rigs operate inside racks at the CryptoUniverse cryptocurrency mining farm in Nadvoitsy, Russia, on Thursday, March 18, 2021. The rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has prompted the greatest push yet among central banks to develop their own digital currencies.

Digiconomist estimated Bitcoin’s global energy draw down at 106 terawatt hours (TWh) per year, equal to the power used by the Republic of Kazakhstan. The fact that Bitcoin’s consumption is rated on the country scale shows just how energy-intensive it has become–equivalent to a carbon footprint of just over 50 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) released annually.

Other sources, like the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, estimated its energy use even higher at around 125 TWh–somewhere between Norway and Argentina. Demand for the digital currency has pushed its power consumption higher than 159 nations, including Ireland, and environmental researchers think the emissions generated by Bitcoin alone could push global warming above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) within 30 years.

Mining Bitcoin requires dedicated computing equipment–high-end graphics cards or ASIC integrated circuits that process data at high speed–to solve the complex mathematical problems that create new coins. This is an energy-intensive process, so mining operations are often set up in regions where electricity is cheapest.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - APRIL 16: People use bank ATM"s next to a Bitcoin ATM machine at a shopping mall on April 16, 2021 in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkey's Central Bank announced a ban on the use of cryptocurrencies and crypto assets for purchases, directly or indirectly to pay for goods or services. The announcement comes as Turkey's crypto market has boomed over the past few years. As the Turkish Lira has slumped, many people have looked to cryptocurrencies to shelter against inflation. Cryptocurrencies gained traction globally this week after cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase launched on the New York Stock Exchange. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

1312850758

People use bank ATM"s next to a Bitcoin ATM machine at a shopping mall on April 16, 2021 in Istanbul, Turkey. Cryptocurrencies gained traction globally this week after cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase launched on the New York Stock Exchange.

Photo by: Chris McGrath

Chris McGrath

People use bank ATM"s next to a Bitcoin ATM machine at a shopping mall on April 16, 2021 in Istanbul, Turkey. Cryptocurrencies gained traction globally this week after cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase launched on the New York Stock Exchange.

China dominates global Bitcoin mining because of its abundance of cheap coal-fired electricity, a carbon-intensive ‘dirty’ energy source. Miners run their machines 24 hours a day to maximize profit, constantly adding to and updating them to earn more Bitcoin. “The miners usually dislike renewables because they don't generate electricity all the time,” said Alex de Vries of Digiconomist. “Green energy is a terrible match for Bitcoin.”

And yet the amount of renewable energy powering the blockchain is estimated at 39 per cent, or even higher, at a reported 73 percent—making Bitcoin mining more renewable energy-driven than almost any other large-scale industry.

Evidence of mining operations in places like Washington—fueled by abundant green hydroelectric energy, plus a rush to hydropower sites in China and geothermal power in Iceland—give Bitcoin stronger environmental credentials. Some in the cryptocurrency industry believe mining operations that don’t switch to renewable sources will simply be shut down.

Comparisons to the energy use of the global banking system make Bitcoin look even less of an environmental risk. Emissions from all the banking system’s employees, their data centers, ATM and Visa networks, international flights, conferences, office and local transport costs, gold mining and related activities are perhaps hundreds of times larger than Bitcoin’s.

In any case, the International Energy Agency, the predictions about Bitcoin rapidly pushing up global temperatures are implausible, and similar, in some ways, to dire warnings about the exponential rise of the internet and its impact on electricity usage. It did not materialize because of improvements in the energy efficiency of computing and data transmission networks.

Bitcoin does have issues. As a technology it is still in its infancy, yet it consumes just under one percent of global electrical energy. Intensive energy-use is built into its protocol, keeping it secure and making sure no one entity can control it. Mining is deliberately slow and difficult, requiring powerful and frequently updated computational equipment, which also impacts global microchip production.


Analysts believe a change to the way that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are verified is urgently needed. Currencies that use less energy may eventually overtake Bitcoin. But the growing popularity of all-digital coins still presents a serious challenge to solving the complex problem of climate change.

Next Up

These Scientists Created Robots Covered in Living Skin

Japanese scientists created a self-healing skin for robots. This breakthrough study brings Westworld-like robots one step closer to reality.Is a dystopian future closer than we think?

Getting the Benefits of Green Spaces through Virtual Nature

Forests and other natural spaces have proven benefits for our health and mental wellbeing, but getting to the great outdoors isn’t always easy.

Robots Imitate Life to Create Better Versions of Themselves

Robots have always imitated life. Social androids powered by artificial intelligence have now reached a level where they may be ready to work in shops, airports, and care homes. But an entirely new class of robots is being developed that can grow, evolve, and even reproduce.

Laser Cooked 3D-Printed Meals are the Future of Food

Whatever your tastes are it is highly unlikely that many of you are using 3D printers to create your favorite meals. Still, anyone interested in the future of food can find technologists printing out snacks, from steaks to cakes, at the push of a button. Now laser cooking has arrived and it is adding an entirely new layer of gourmet taste.

How 3D Print Building is Changing the Future

Building with 3D printing technology is sparking widespread interest in the construction industry. Besides reducing waste and our impact on the environment, it can speed up construction from weeks, or months, to days. Projects that use simple raw materials like soil, straw, and even salt, can be built in a fraction of the time and cost of traditional construction.

Nanodiamond Sparkles as Miracle Material of Future Technology

Invisible to the naked eye and made from one of Earth’s most abundant elements, carbon, the wonder-material nanodiamond is an impressive creation. These tiny particles of diamond measure billionths of a meter in size, but their impact on future science is likely to be colossal.

Neuroprosthetic Sensory Devices are Reconnecting People to the World

Sensory loss has a profound effect on millions of people’s everyday lives. Sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste can all be affected, diminishing their experience of the world. But now, thanks to neuroprosthetic technology we can tap into nerve and brain function, and rewire these lost connections.

Digital Twins are a Virtual Replica of Everything

Imagine a world where every car or plane, every patient, every building, or even entire cities have their own virtual, real-time computerized replica--a digital double.

NASA's Biggest 2021 Milestones

From making history on Mars to supersonic aircraft, NASA continues to astound us with science from this past year.

Soft Robots Ape Nature to Operate in the Harshest Conditions

You could be forgiven for assuming that soft robotics is simply about making robots without rough edges – a kind of warm, fuzzy android experience. If machines that hug humans are the aim, then that’s probably true, but soft robots are often designed to operate in harsh or dangerous environments where others would struggle.