Commentators have compared it to a bubble, noting that the currency can't be exchanged for most goods or services. "That's an unfathomable amount of electricity," said Charles Hoskinson, a cryptocurrency entrepreneur who co-founded Ethereum, the blockchain network underpinning ether, the world's second-most valuable digital coin. But bitcoin miners do not run this operation for free. "It's the crazy inefficiency of the system that's jarring," De Vries said. "Bitcoin is inefficient by design. Researchers: bitcoin's carbon footprint equal to Las Vegas. While there are only about 1 million bitcoin miners in the world, according to an industry estimate, the amount of electricity that mining consumes in one year is equal to that used to power Malaysia, Sweden or Ukraine, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index. News provided by The Associated Press. We want to hear from you. (There are disagreements over how big the industry’s carbon footprint is, but no one disputes that it’s big.) The CBECI found that Bitcoin mining consumes more energy than the entire nation of Singapore. Sign up for free newsletters and get more CNBC delivered to your inbox. The size of bitcoin’s electrical footprint means the carbon emissions are substantial. The cryptocurrency more than quadrupled in value last year and is up another 27% so far this year, according to Coin Metrics, currently trading at about $37,189. ", "Bitcoin's spiralling energy usage is largely down to the huge amount of data-crunching needed to create and maintain this cyber-currency," Hatton told CNBC. Bitcoin's energy needs are "enormously large," Michel Rauchs, research affiliate at the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, told CNBC. © 2021 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. Data is a real-time snapshot *Data is delayed at least 15 minutes. "Unlike other economic activities, the bitcoin scheme produces absolutely nothing for all this waste," said Stephen Diehl, a software engineer who frequently writes about cryptocurrency. And the more expensive bitcoin gets, the more people want a shot at the action. With bitcoin's usage limited to a tiny number of concurrent transactions, "it's not really capable of servicing a big group of people," he said. Get this delivered to your inbox, and more info about our products and services. And given the way Bitcoin works, the more popular it … Or Argentina. With bitcoin rising in price, revenue to miners is also increasing, incentivizing more participants to mine the cryptocurrency. With the unknown number of server farms globally, the high energy consumption of Bitcoin mining comes with a significant carbon footprint. A recent study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology did a life-cycle assessment of the Bitcoin mining network and arrived at a lower carbon footprint … Similar proof-of-stake tokens include polkadot and algorand, he added. "We also don't want to say it's not an issue at all.". "You have all these miners using electricity — you can boot them off the grid if you want to. 00:00Why is Bitcoin NIKKEI not as bad for the environment as manycritics like to allege. As the price of bitcoin soars past $56,000, the cryptocurrency's negative environmental impact is becoming harder to ignore. This inefficiency is the price we pay for security," said Anton Dek, crypto asset and blockchain lead at the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (and one of the researchers on the bitcoin energy tracker). Bitcoin boom has huge carbon footprint. The annual carbon emissions from the electricity required to mine Bitcoin and process its transactions are equal to the amount emitted by all of New Zealand. These purchases aren't refundable, De Vries noted, which means that once miners receive their equipment they are likely to use them — even if a digital coin's price has fallen in the meantime. "Sending and storing emails uses energy. It also means that how much bitcoin you can mine depends on how much computing power you can throw at the problem. "Despite that, it still consumes as much [power] as all data centers in the world — we're talking about all the data centers that are powering the internet, powering big tech clouds, serving a majority of the world's population. Unlike other economic activities, the bitcoin scheme produces absolutely nothing for all this waste. That sort of comparison, however, may be driving bitcoin into a speculative frenzy that could "lock in" high emissions for years to come. "But their fast-growing hunger for electricity is just an early symptom of a much bigger problem to come. Researcher finds that Bitcoin mining alone may rival the carbon footprint of all global data centres combined. That has effectively set off an arms race in which miners invest in even more computing equipment that they keep running 24 hours a day. De Vries estimates that bitcoin's yearly carbon emissions are on track to match the city of London's, which is estimated to be 98.9 megatons, according to citycarbonfootprints.info. "The problem is that only about a fifth of the electricity used in the world's data centres comes from renewable sources, and that's not good enough.". Norilsk hosts the Arctic's first crypto farm for producing new bitcoins. “However, the carbon footprint is big enough to make it worth discussing the possibility of regulating cryptocurrency mining in regions where power generation is especially carbon-intensive.” The researchers said about 68% of the computing power used to generate, or mine, bitcoins is in Asia, 17% is in Europe and 15% is in North America. Other studies have found that the environmental damage caused by crypto mining is on par with mineral mining. ICE Limitations. We calculate Bitcoin’s carbon footprint based on its total power consumption and geographic footprint. In an article published in Nature Climate Change, scientists warned that if it were to become as widely adopted as other new technologies, bitcoin alone could push the Earth's temperature 2 degrees above historical levels. 1. The surge in bitcoin’s price since the start of 2021 could result in the cryptocurrency having a carbon footprint the same as that of London, according to research. Nevertheless, bitcoin believers argue that disputes about its environmental impact are missing the point. Proponents of bitcoin say this makes it extremely secure. Critics say there are alternative tokens that consume far less power, while bulls argue disputes about bitcoin's environmental impact miss the point. Dek is less concerned than others about bitcoin's potential environmental impact, pointing out that crypto mining uses as much electricity as Americans waste by plugging in electrical appliances that are not running. Many investors today consider bitcoin to be a form of "digital gold" rather than an efficient payment system — Digiconomist estimates that the energy footprint of one bitcoin transaction is equivalent to 453,000 payments on the Visa network. "Naturally there are bigger factors contributing to climate change. Bitcoin mining, a process called “proof-of-work,” involves a global network of machines racing to solve complex math. Market data provided by ICE Data Services. "Although we agree the amounts are ludicrous right now, that is still half as much as inactive home appliances in the U.S. consumed," Rauchs said. It's extremely disproportional.". "All you care about once you get the machine is, how much do I pay for electricity to run this machine? The paper cites an assumption of 480-500g of carbon dioxide produced for every kWh consumed. ", "What we have here is people trying to decide what is or is not a good use of energy, and bitcoin is incredibly transparent in its energy use while other industries are much more opaque.". "It is a pure speculative activity of people gambling on the random movements of prices and the only output is simply shuffling numbers around in a computer at insane cost. Bitcoin is responsible for the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions as a city like Las Vegas or Hamburg, and it's time to consider how to reduce its climate footprint… ", "As online services become bigger and more complex, the demand for computing power is bound to go up over the next few years, and that will require more energy," he added. Akos Stiller | Bloomberg via Getty Images, German steel powerhouse turns to 'green' hydrogen produced using huge wind turbines, London's River Thames set to trial new tidal energy technologies, India is turning to 'green hydrogen' in a bid to decarbonize its economy, Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, could power the bitcoin network for two years, Elon Musk says he’s a supporter of bitcoin and thinks it will get ‘broad acceptance’ in finance, India might ban private cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and develop a national digital coin, Coinbase plans to go public through a direct listing, following Spotify, Slack and Palantir. 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Carbon Footprint. Energy-hogging crypto miners have been blamed for power outages in Iran, while China — a crypto mining hotbed — is cracking down on the practice as it takes a heavier hand with polluting industries. The sunk cost doesn't matter anymore," he said. "We are trying to make the point here that it is not that bad," Dek said. Recently, Bloomberg published a piece calling Bitcoin an “incredibly dirty business.” It’s undeniable that the Bitcoin blockchain has a carbon footprint. Getting a better handle on bitcoin’s carbon footprint will remain tricky until we have more accurate data on where mining takes place – information which Köhler and Pizzol say is scarce today. The research was published in Joule magazine by cryptocurrency economist Alex De Vries, who noted that bitcoin's energy use this year will rival that of all cloud-computing data centers globally. LONDON — Bitcoin's price isn't the only thing surging lately — the amount of electricity it consumes is also on the rise. Bitcoin isn't controlled by any single authority — like a central bank — but a disparate network of computers. That's an option you have as a regulator," De Vries said. Thanks for having me back. All Rights Reserved. According to research released this week, bitcoin's record-high prices have created a crypto mining backlog such that, even if the price falls, emissions from mining the virtual currency are likely to stay high for the near future. She said bitcoin miners were "incentivized to use renewables" because it's getting cheaper to produce it. When you buy an item from a store, a bank must verify that transaction and record in its ledger that the money was transferred from your account to the store. The process of mining a bitcoin involves multitudes of computers competing to solve a complex math problem, in which the first to reach a solution is rewarded with a bitcoin. "Energy use in itself is not bad," Meltem Demirors, chief strategy officer of digital asset management firm CoinShares, told CNBC. Molly Taft. 20. So-called "miners" run purpose-built computers which compete to solve complex math puzzles in order to make a transaction go through. Racks of ASIC mining devices and power units at the BitCluster cryptocurrency mining farm in Norilsk, Russia, on December 20, 2020. It accounts for around 0.5% of total global electricity consumption, according to the Cambridge researchers' estimates. Bitcoin has a carbon footprint comparable to that of New Zealand, producing 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually, according to Digiconomist's Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, an online tool created by data scientist Alex de Vries. "You will just use more and more machines but the total electricity consumption won't go down based off of that.". To determine the amount of carbon emitted in each country, we multiply the power consumption by average and marginal emission factors of power generation. Demirors questioned why the banking industry, for instance, wasn't under more scrutiny for its energy usage. A key measure of bitcoin's mining difficulty hit an all-time high last month. Bitcoin has a carbon footprint of some sort, the same as any computer-based task. Cardano and some other digital coins rely on a "proof of stake" consensus mechanism, where participants buy tokens which allow them to join the network. "We see the use case of bitcoin more and more as gold. That is comparable to the footprint … Then there's the question of how bitcoin is used. Hoskinson says the cardano cryptocurrency network consumes only 6 GWh of power, a tiny fraction of bitcoin's energy consumption. But most bitcoin mining facilities are located in China, which is still heavily reliant on coal-based power. Monica said that creating a pathway for other companies in the industry to start speaking about sustainability in blockchain is the most important step forward: “I think that the first step is having a conversation about it,” she said. To put this into perspective, one Bitcoin transaction is the “equivalent to the carbon footprint of 735,121 Visa transactions or 55,280 hours of watching YouTube,” according to … Despite comparisons of bitcoin to gold, many continue to question whether the virtual currency is worth anything. Bitcoin Mining Guzzles Energy—And Its Carbon Footprint Just Keeps Growing Today, each bitcoin transaction requires the same amount of energy used to power nine homes in the US for one day. The cryptocurrency has for years alarmed experts due to the sheer level of energy required by so-called miners, which release new coins into circulation. Each block that is added onto the chain carries a hard, cryptographic reference to the previous block. The complexity of these transactions makes it difficult, for instance, to hack the bitcoin blockchain. More such crackdowns may be needed to keep crypto's carbon emissions under control. / MoneyWatch. Yet, we don't infer email to be bad because it consumes energy. Bitcoin’s future carbon footprint is similarly hard to parse. Rauchs said bitcoin is only likely to consume more and more electricity over time due to its proof of work mechanism. Yesterday 11:00AM. Bitcoin has a carbon footprint comparable to that of New Zealand, producing 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually, according to Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, an … ", First published on March 12, 2021 / 7:02 AM. Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images, California Privacy/Information We Collect. Andrew Hatton, head of IT at Greenpeace U.K., said the larger issue at hand is that "we're largely powering 21st-century technology with 19th-century energy sources. While it's hard to say exactly how carbon-intensive cryptocurrency mining is — most miners' locations and energy sources are a closely guarded secret — scientists are worried. It consumes as much power as Chile — around 77.78 TWh — according to Digonomist's estimates. One Bitcoin transaction would generate the … Bitcoin is extremely energy consuming, with the carbon footprint of a single bitcoin transaction totaling the same as 685,656 Visa transactions, according to a report by Digiconomist. Alex de Vries, a Dutch economist, created the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, one of the first systematic attempts to estimate the energy use of the bitcoin network. The conclusion of the study: The Bitcoin system has a carbon footprint of between 22 and 22.9 megatons per year. © 2021 CNBC LLC. A Division of NBCUniversal. Boxes of machinery used in bitcoin mining operations that were confiscated by police in Nazarabad, Iran. "The issue is, it can never get better by design," says Hoskinson, who now runs IOHK, a blockchain firm that developed another digital token called cardano. So even if bitcoin's price were to drop by half, the planet is likely locked into high emissions from crypto mining for the near term — unless more miners can find cleaner sources of power to meet their computing demands, or more regions follow China's lead to restrict or eliminate bitcoin mining altogether. It is hundreds of thousands of times as much. A key incentive of bitcoin's model, known as "proof of work," is the promise of being rewarded in some bitcoin if you manage to solve the complex hashing algorithm. The Regulations That Could Help Reduce Bitcoin’s Carbon Footprint. The Bitcoin system has a carbon footprint of between 22 and 22.9 megatonnes per year. One analyst estimates that a single Bitcoin transaction uses as much electricity as Visa uses to process 100,000 credit and debit card purchases. The cryptocurrency consumes more electricity than the entire annual energy consumption of the Netherlands, Cambridge University researchers say. "If it's more profitable, it encourages more people to enter this competition — it encourages more miners to come," Dek said. Global Business and Financial News, Stock Quotes, and Market Data and Analysis. "The more successful bitcoin gets, the higher the price goes; the higher the price goes, the more competition for bitcoin; and thus the more energy is expended to mine.". Bitcoin's niche appeal is at odds with its massive energy demands, De Vries explained. Though the Chinese province of Sichuan is known to attract miners due to its cheap electricity and rich hydropower resources, the level of power generation capacity fluctuates depending on the season. It will be interesting to see whether Tesla, whose CEO, Elon Musk promotes the carbon tax, would also pay the taxes for using bitcoins. Got a confidential news tip? It's something to preserve value, not for everyday transactions," Dek said. The idea is to reduce carbon emissions from Bitcoin mining and search for a sustainable power source. The blockchain — a digital ledger of all bitcoin transactions — is designed this way to ensure that users aren't able to "double spend" funds, a flaw in which the same digital token could be spent more than once. Bitcoin has a carbon footprint comparable to that of New Zealand, producing 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually, according to Digiconomist. Copyright © 2021 CBS Interactive Inc. All rights reserved. If it were a country, its annualized estimated carbon footprint would be comparable to New Zealand at about 37 million tons of carbon dioxide. "Bitcoin's carbon footprint will get exponentially worse because the more its price rises, the more competition there is for the currency and thus the more energy it consumes." It is a pure speculative activity of people gambling on the random movements of prices and the only output is simply shuffling numbers around in a computer at insane cost. The heavy dependence on fossil fuels to power server farms could be lessened by tapping renewable energy sources. Photo: Police News Agency (AP) The price of bitcoin has hit record prices this month, and that’s bad news for the climate. A corrected version of the story is below: The size of that footprint, though, is a mystery. The amount of energy wasted on idle home devices like phone chargers and microwaves in the U.S. could power the bitcoin network for two years. The Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, a separate tool from researchers at Cambridge University, shows a much larger figure of 110.53 TWh — more than the entire annual energy consumption of the Netherlands. BERLIN (AP) — In a story June 13 about the carbon footprint of bitcoin, The Associated Press reported erroneously that the electricity required for a bitcoin transaction results in hundreds of times as much CO2 emitted as a credit card payment. To determine the amount of carbon emitted in each country, we multiply the power consumption of Bitcoin mining by average … Legal Statement. One group of researchers at the University of New Mexico has put a price on that pollution, estimating in a paper that every dollar of bitcoin value mined accounts for 49 cents' worth of health and climate damage in the U.S. "With each cryptocurrency, the rising electricity requirements to produce a single coin can lead to an almost inevitable cliff of negative net social benefit," the paper states.