Energy cost of ‘mining’ bitcoin more than twice that of copper or gold

The amount of energy required to “mine” one dollar’s worth of bitcoin is more than twice that required to mine the same value of copper, gold or platinum, according to a new paper, suggesting that the virtual work that underpins bitcoin, ethereum and similar projects is more similar to real mining than anyone intended.

One dollar’s worth of bitcoin takes about 17 megajoules of energy to mine, according to researchers from the Oak Ridge Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio, compared with four, five and seven megajoules for copper, gold and platinum.

Other cryptocurrencies also fair poorly in comparison, the researchers write in the journal Nature Sustainability, ascribing a cost-per-dollar of 7MJ for ethereum and 14MJ for the privacy focused cryptocurrency monero. But all the cryptocurrencies examined come off well compared with aluminium, which takes an astonishing 122MJ to mine one dollar’s worth of ore.

Bitcoin Mining Now Accounts For Almost One Percent of the World’s Energy Consumption

It is well-established established that Bitcoin mining — aka, donating one’s computing power to keep a cryptocurrency network up and running in exchange for a chance to win some free crypto — uses a lot of electricity. Companies involved in large-scale mining operations know that this is a problem, and they’ve tried to employ various solutions for making the process more energy efficient.

But, according to testimony provided by Princeton computer scientist Arvind Narayanan to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, no matter what you do to make cryptocurrency mining harware greener, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the overall network’s flabbergasting energy consumption. Instead, Narayanan told the committee, the only thing that really determines how much energy Bitcoin uses is its price. “If the price of a cryptocurrency goes up, more energy will be used in mining it; if it goes down, less energy will be used,” he told the committee. “Little else matters. In particular, the increasing energy efficiency of mining hardware has essentially no impact on energy consumption.”

In his testimony, Narayanan estimates that Bitcoin mining now uses about five gigawatts of electricity per day (in May, estimates of Bitcoin power consumption were about half of that). He adds that when you’ve got a computer racing with all its might to earn a free Bitcoin, it’s going to be running hot as hell, which means you’re probably using even more electricity to keep the computer cool so it doesn’t die and/or burn down your entire mining center, which probably makes the overall cost associated with mining even higher.

Bitcoin driving huge electricity demand, environmental impact

In a normal year, demand for electric power in Chelan County grows by perhaps 4 megawatts ­­— enough for around 2,250 homes — as new residents arrive and as businesses start or expand. But since January 2017, as Bitcoin enthusiasts bid up the price of the currency, eager miners have requested a staggering 210 megawatts for mines they want to build in Chelan County. That’s nearly as much as the county and its 73,000 residents were already using. And because it is a public utility, the PUD staff is obligated to consider every request.

The scale of some new requests is mind-boggling. Until recently, the largest mines in Chelan County used five megawatts or less. In the past six months, by contrast, miners have requested loads of 50 megawatts and, in several cases, 100 megawatts. By comparison, a fruit warehouse uses around 2.5 megawatts.