This is by no means a new fact and yet we still hear too little about it. Whether it is during speeches or articles in the mass media, the theme is too often avoided. I’m talking about the carbon footprint and the ecological transition potential of cryptocurrencies. Today, the energy used by these digital currencies comes mainly from “green” sources. Between hydraulic, geothermal or even solar, examples around the globe are legion. Thus in these lines we will come back to the energy needs of the mining industry, accompanied by its mix. Then, we will observe what are the issues that act in favor or against „green mining“. Obviously, this article exclusively concerns currencies working with Proof of Work.
Before discussing the mining industry and its challenges, let’s analyze the phenomenon of Proof of Work (PoW), or Proof of Work.
The advent of the first cryptocurrency Bitcoin (BTC) was enabled by many innovations
The PoW consensus is now used to validate transactions on the Bitcoin network . In the absence of a trusted third party or banking intermediary, we need technology to process payments. “ Blockchain ” technology is often mentioned , but its operability is mainly guaranteed by the existence of this protocol.
This protocol is unfortunately imperfect. The validation system based on the latter allows a significant energy expenditure. This consumption is made by validators called “ minors „.
To approve cryptocurrency transactions, they must individually solve complex mathematical calculations. To achieve this, miners who have graphics cards or Asics consume electricity. They are comparable to microcomputers. With the difference that they are specialized – in particular Asics – in the resolution of this type of calculation.
In addition, the more numerous minors participate in the validation system, the more energy consumed will be. Indeed, the mathematical difficulty of the calculations is adjusted according to the number of validators.
This adaptation is explained by the need to maintain the economic incentive at the same level, regardless of the number of actors involved. As a result, the more players there are, the more energy will be required to validate transactions.
State of play of the mining industry’s consumption level
Nowadays, the strong competition on the network to validate transactions results from high energy consumption. So much so that for several years the consumption of Satoshi’s currency has given rise to lively controversy. Compared to the energy demand of states of several million people, and even to household appliances , it is often described as “ energy intensive „.
This name is certainly justified because of the astronomical quantities of electricity it requires, but it is not harmful for all that. Unfortunately, the debate traditionally ends on this point. Without taking into perspective a number of factors essential to the debate. This gives rise to dramatic comparisons and caricatures that have no place . The most notorious remains today that brought to Bitcoin, it would be responsible for climate change .
It is therefore time to review the copy too often blank or riddled with errors made by „experts“ when asked about the subject. And thus, realize the true environmental footprint of Bitcoin and other crypto currencies that use PoW.
Understand the irregularities made by Bitcoin scavengers and the true impact of the mining industry
Contextualize perverted figures during debates
Today, the mystery surrounding the amount of electricity consumed by the mining industry remains. The opacity of the sector makes its precise estimation impossible. On the other hand, many researchers or research groups have looked into the subject. Some even with very outlandishly inspired calculation methods.
I am thinking in particular of the notorious Alex de Vries . Where it obtains for the period of June 2018 an annual consumption of Bitcoin of 70 Twh . In contrast to figures published by Cambridge and Jean-Paul Delahaye , a French mathematician, indicate 44 Twh and 40 Twh respectively (over the same period).
However, even these results have been the subject of debate, as they omitted certain characteristics to denote reality. As for the work of Alex de Vries, a publication was made to illustrate the multiple errors of reasoning made. The PwC consultant is now seen more as a detractor of Bitcoin rather than a real researcher.
The truth about industrial consumption is therefore not an infused science. And even for prestigious universities such as Cambridge. In this case, when you look for the level of consumption you do not get 1, but 3 different figures. With 3 rating levels, one low, high and medium. As of October 20, 2020, the estimates are between 37.68 and 97 Twh. Consequently, the difference observed between each of the scales shows the clear ignorance of information in the field.