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One of the most justifiably worrying aspects regarding Bitcoin is the cryptocurrency’s electricity consumption during the process of mining, and ensuing environmental consequences. According to estimations, Bitcoin mining is using over 200 million KWh on a daily basis (0.33% of the entire world’s electricity consumption) – a little more than all the yearly energy consumption in Austria and just a little less than in the Philippines.
But a researcher from the University of Pittsburgh now defies this conception, and calls for a wider scrutiny of global energy consumption as a whole.
The researcher, Katrina Kelly-Pitou, is a highly qualified academic who holds a PhD from the University of Nottingham in Energy Development Studies; she is a Research Associate in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and also acting as Manager of Strategy and Business Development for the Center for Energy. She essentially argues that the whole focus of energy consumption is utterly misdirected, because the problem is not Bitcoin, but polluting fossil-based electricity producers.
Kelly-Pitou explains that even an immense amount of electricity consumption could be either insignificant or even completely impertinent; for instance, she exemplifies, in Iceland that has become an attractive destination for Bitcoin mining, energy consumption and pollution is almost inconsequential since the country’s energy is based almost entirely on green renewable sources. Yet even in places in which carbon emissions are high, Kelly-Pitou emphasizes that Bitcoin is merely another symptom rather than the broadly impacting disease – that is the general carbon footprint emissions.
Although there has been extensive discussion in the media of bitcoin’s energy consumption, I’m not aware of any studies that actually calculate the comparative carbon footprint of the bitcoin process.
Global electricity consumption is going up overall. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that world use will increase nearly 28 percent over the next two decades. But increasing energy consumption is bad only if we aren’t shifting toward less carbon-dense power production. So far, it seems that only miners are currently shifting toward cleaner parts of the world.
Indeed, with rising awareness to the issue, there seem to be plenty of clean energy initiatives linked to Bitcoin mining (examples: 1, 2, 3), and even public calls to set cryptocurrency at the forefront of the clean energy cause (1, 2).
Yet, in spite of Kelly-Pitou’s thorough and compelling thesis, an argument that is founded on others’ faults is still – at least to a certain degree – lacking. It is true that environmental pollution is certainly not a crypto problem, but is a much more extensive issue; however, the crypto world should aspire to be a part of the solution and not justify its improprieties with pointing a finger toward other directions.
It is vital, though, to advance and promote a clean energy agenda in general; and therefore I will end with Kelly-Pitou’s concluding words.
So perhaps people should quit criticizing bitcoin for its energy intensity and start criticizing states and nations for still providing new industries with dirty power supplies instead.