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Bitcoin’s carbon footprint hard to evaluate

5 min reading

The effect of BTC mining on the environment has now turned into an argument and this is what the academics think about if “green Bitcoin” is possible. This argument around the environmental impact of the Bitcoin mining ecosystem is getting attention as the academic have come up with new set of opinions on the subject.

The effect of BTC mining on the environment has now turned into an argument and this is what the academics think about if “green Bitcoin” is possible. This argument around the environmental impact of the Bitcoin mining ecosystem is getting attention as the academic have come up with new set of opinions on the subject. In an opinion piece by Noah Smith, a former assistant finance professor turned columnist openly spoke about the Bitcoin (BTC) mining industry in March, proving that the constant growing energy consumption of the network is now unsustainable. Smiths said that more countries will focus on Bitcoin mining as they use more power as the increasing price of BTC is constantly matched with the rising hash rates. 

Nic Carter the founder of Coin Metrics has denied some of the points raised in Smith’s column, there is still some double opinion around the amount of energy that Bitcoin mining pulls out. The main sources for this energy and the carbon footprint are the industry on the planet. The mining industry is considered as the downplay to the extent of its resource-intensive work and most of the industry insiders have mentioned that talk of Bitcoin’s environmental impact is not really a problem and the data shows a large share of hash power brings in energy from renewable sources. 

However, environmental advocates are focusing on the industry in return, which has shown a somewhat unending debate on the matter. According to some of the academics in the area who have expressed their opinion on the matter for instance, those behind the Cambridge Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, have turned out to be a reference point for the estimated power consumption of the Bitcoin network, even though there are some self-confessed limitations. Nevertheless, Aalborg University Ph.D. fellow Susanne Kohler and associate professor Massimo Pizzol co-wrote a study named “life cycle Assessment of Bitcoin Mining” this gave some details driven assumptions about the environmental impact of the industry. 

Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance crypto asset and Blockchain lead Anton Dek revealed the history of the CBEC and the methodology used to create the energy consumption estimates of its Bitcoin Electricity Consumption index. The Cambridge research associate said the team had noticed that other models that were trying to create accurate estimates of the Bitcoin network’s energy usage had used a implemented an effective approach, using data such as the amount miners spend on electricity. “These different machines all have known efficiencies, joules of energy they expend to solve hashes. Based on these assumptions, we built the index.” The index gives an estimated power consumption range, with its present theoretical lower bound annualized electrical consumption at 43.32 terawatt-hours to the theoretical upper bound at 476.18 TWh. The current estimate of Bitcoin’s present consumption is based on the assumption that miners use a mix of profitable hardware.

The CBECI website give away a global mining map which gives a breakdown of how the Bitcoin mining network is shared around the world. The map gives country-by-country hash rates, while China’s 12 provinces are also responsible for it, considering the fact that more than half of the world’s Bitcoin hash rate is situated in the country. “This is self-reported data by mining pools, so we have to trust these guys. But even if it’s all true, we only cover 37% of Bitcoin’s total hash rate from those three pools that provided information to us. If we extrapolate it to the total miners, we assume this is representativeness of this sample, which might not be true, given that we have more data from China. That’s something we’re going to improve on.” 

Dek believes, “If we look at the energy mix of every region, and then each country, we’ll be able to assume the energy mix and then we’ll be able to more accurately estimate the carbon emission factor.” anyways, Dek said other researchers has came to an estimate by taking the total annual power consumption of the Bitcoin network, around 130 terawatts-hour, and multiply this by the average carbon emission factor. “Its more complicated than this because I think the Bitcoin energy mix doesn’t fall in the average world mix doesn’t fall in the average world mix. The reason is that they use renewables, not because of their benevolence, but for purely economic reasons. Hydropower exists in abundance in some regions, and if you look on the Bitcoin mining map and China, the Sichuan region is still very important for mining.” The CBECI data shows the increase in the hash rate in the area during the wet season, where more rain reached a state of a more than sufficient power generated by swollen dams. “Even if mining is more efficient, there is much more mining done, and this means a larger impact.” 

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