Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Grist has joined the rising chorus of greens condemning the vast energy expenditures of Bitcoin miners.
Bitcoin gobbles up clean energy — just when the real world needs it most
By Eric Holthaus on Feb 16, 2018
One of the biggest near-term threats to our clean energy future doesn’t even physically exist — but the danger is increasingly very real.
The stupendous growth of the virtual currency Bitcoin is creating real-world consequences. Massive number-crunching computer facilities for mining Bitcoin have popped up in parts of the planet where renewable electricity comes especially cheap. And now it looks like this mining is starting to siphon green energy away from everybody else.
To maintain security as its network grows, the math problems that Bitcoin “miners” must solve are getting ever more difficult. That requires a constant supply of additional computing power, which requires a constant supply of additional electricity. One Bitcoin transaction uses as much energy as a single U.S. household consumes in three weeks, and there are nearly 200,000 transactions around the world every day. In total, Bitcoin now consumes about as much energyas Portugal.
And it’s about to get much, much worse than that. A couple of months ago, I wrote that Bitcoin mining’s rapid growth was unsustainable, because the electricity required to feed it would overtake the supply. In Iceland, that’s starting to happen.
“We are spending tens or maybe hundreds of megawatts on producing something that has no tangible existence and no real use for humans outside the realm of financial speculation,”Smári McCarthy, an Icelandic member of parliament recently told the Associated Press. “That can’t be good.”
I must say its entertaining watching greens who believe in the imaginary climate crisis condemn the enthusiasm of people who believe in an imaginary currency.
But sooner or later Bitcoin’s insatiable thirst for electricity may spill into real world consequences – ordinary people could experience power price spikes or worse, for the sake of an activity which produces no real world value.