May 22, 2019 | Updated: 08:18 AM EDT

Economist Tackles a Possible Environmental Problem Caused by Bitcoin

Mar 16, 2019 08:09 AM EDT

Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index
(Photo : Thomas Tribus)

Since 2009, when mining for Bitcoin started, the cryptocurrency has relied on electricity to fuel its mining activities. Since then, the cryptocurrency is said to have a growing environmental problem according to the statement of an economist.

Alex de Vries, the economist who published a new research paper on Bitcoin's problem further stated that using a renewable energy source will not solve the problem. De Vries is well-known for the assessments he made on the electricity consumption and carbon footprint of Bitcoin. The economist further emphasized the amount of electricity that the cryptocurrency uses for mining can be used by Hungary for a whole year.

The economist further explains how a single transaction in Bitcoin consumes 491 to 766 kilowatt-hours as compared to 0.4 kilowatt-hours that a non-cash transaction in a traditional bank would consume. De Vries also stated that there is an emission of 233 to 364 kilograms of carbon dioxide for one Bitcoin transaction, whereas, a Visa transaction is about 0.4 grams' worth of carbon dioxide and a Google search could reach about 0.8 grams only.

On his research, De Vries argues that Bitcoin has posted this massive environmental problem. This theory, of course, is being disputed by many others because of some Bitcoin mining facilities that are located in areas where there is renewable power. As Sichuan, China is famous for its surplus hydropower, holding 48% of the mining capacity for Bitcoin should not be a problem, as disputed against De Vries. However, De Vries did not yield to this difference of opinion and explained that miners taking advantage of the excess hydropower pose an additional demand on the grid for the whole year. Hydropower also has shortages during the dry season when there will be times that the shortage would be met by using coal.

De Vries also discussed the electronic waste that Bitcoin generates because of the obsolete mining chips that would someday outpace e-waste creation.Jonathan Koomey, the energy researcher with published papers tackling the energy used by data centers, is in complete disagreement with De Vries. Koomey criticized De Vries' methodology in computing for the electricity footprint of Bitcoin. Still, Koomey acknowledges the uncertainty in pinpointing the mining rigs for the cryptocurrency. Koomey further defended that the lack of data can only leave researchers second-guessing as to identifying the real scale of the alleged environmental problem posed by Bitcoin and the probable solution to it.

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