New study quantifies bitcoin’s ludicrous energy consumption

Enlarge / The bitcoin network uses several times the 1.21 gigawatts required to travel back in time. (credit: Universal Pictures)

The bitcoin network is run by miners, computers that maintain the shared transaction ledger called the blockchain. A new study estimates that this process consumes at least 2.6GW of power—almost as much energy as the nation of Ireland. This figure could rise to 7.7GW before the end of 2018—accounting for almost half a percent of the world's electricity consumption.

The study is an updated version of calculations performed late last year by analyst Alex de Vries. In this new version, de Vries has gathered more detailed information about the economics of the mining business. But his new numbers are broadly consistent with the old ones. Last December, he estimated that the Bitcoin network was consuming roughly 32TWh annually, or 3.65GW. His website, which is updated daily, now shows the network consuming 67TWh annually, just under that upper bound of 7.7 GW shown in his new study.

As de Vries makes clear in his new paper, these numbers are necessarily speculative. Bitcoin mining is a decentralized and secretive industry. We know how much computing power the bitcoin network has—right now it's about 30 trillion SHA-256 hashes per second. But miners are making these calculations on a variety of different types of hardware with different levels of energy efficiency, so we can't convert that figure directly to energy consumption.

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