Mining for bitcoin is now consuming more electricity than the entirety of Argentina, suggests an energy tracker run by Cambridge University.
Bitcoin is a digital cryptocurrency craze that has taken over the internet, requiring no physical form or bank to be used, created through a process called mining. Mining is essentially using powerful computer components – particularly graphics cards – to verify bitcoin transactions, a process that then creates bitcoins for the user. Due to a recent surge in the price of Bitcoin, miners from around the world are hooking up power-hungry computing rigs to create the encrypted currency, which has a limited supply before no more can be created.
The Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index was set up to track the energy draw of this process globally. It is a "best-guess estimate", which is then taken and compared to other electricity uses to demonstrate the huge impact of cryptocurrency.
The most recent update suggests some mind-boggling statistics – Bitcoin now consumes 121.36 terawatt-hours worth of electricity every single year, a number that is now higher than Argentina’s energy consumption and hot on the heels of Norway. When Bitcoin is classed as a country, it ranks 30th in the world, consuming almost 0.5% of the world’s energy production.
Currently sitting at $47,700 (£34,450), Bitcoin continues to rise in price. As supply dwindles, big names in both industry and celebrity realms are investing, with Tesla purchasing $1.5 billion of Bitcoin despite critics slamming the company for the environmental impact of the transaction.
Despite being by far the largest, Bitcoin is not the only cryptocurrency that miners are scrambling for. As of 2020, there were over 1,650 cryptocurrencies available, from blockchains such as Ethereum, to more... meme-worthy currencies like Dogecoin. These are all vying for the same success as Bitcoin, and in the wake of overwhelming media coverage of cryptocurrency in recent months, more and more currencies will likely enter the market.
Unfortunately, there seems to be no end in sight. Experts suggest that mining, and the ensuing energy consumption, will continue to rise unless the price of Bitcoin drops significantly. Alongside this, hardware companies under pressure to produce more powerful components each year are turning up the power draw of graphics cards, with high-end models using upwards of 300W to squeeze maximum performance out of each chip. With mining rigs using vast numbers of graphics cards over long periods of time, the environmental impact of cryptocurrency will only get worse.