Stop Worrying About Bitcoin’s Impact on the Environment

Stop Worrying About Bitcoin’s Impact on the Environment

A common mainstream media trope is that Bitcoin mining will soon use so much electrical power it could lead to an environmental catastrophe. We’ve often provided examples of how this is a false narrative, and now an independent energy researcher is saying the same. She points to miners migrating to locations with abundant renewable energy and highlights that the banking system is far more wasteful.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Dr. Katrina M. Kelly-Pitou PhD holds dual roles at the University of Pittsburgh as a Research Associate in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and as Manager of Strategy and Business Development for the Center for Energy. On Monday her article titled Stop worrying about how much energy Bitcoin uses appeared on The Conversation, a not-for-profit outlet for content sourced from academics and researchers. In it she takes to task the notion that mining is inherently energy wasteful and thus dangerous to the environment.

Regarding the oft-cited estimation that mining used 30 terawatt hours in 2017 — as much as Ireland — she explains: “This is a lot, but not exorbitant. Banking consumes an estimated 100 terawatts of power annually. If Bitcoin technology were to mature by more than 100 times its current market size, it would still equal only 2 percent of all energy consumption.” She believes this maturing process is inevitable, as happened with previous energy-intensive new technologies such as data centers and computers, saying: “Over time, all of these have become more efficient, a natural progression of any technology: Saving energy equates to saving costs.”

Ask How, Not How Much

The researcher states that electricity usage can increase while still maintaining a minimal impact on the environment, and suggests that the source of power is what’s important. “Not all types of energy generation are equal in their impact on the environment, nor does the world uniformly rely on the same types of generation across states and markets,” she explains, adding that,

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.

Specifically, she points to miners migrating out of coal-dependent China, and into areas with cheap renewable sources such as hydroelectric power in Oregon and geothermal-rich Iceland. For another example, we reported earlier this year about a Japanese electricity company that uses excess solar power for mining.

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