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digiconomist.net
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Perhaps millennia from now we will be building Dyson Spheres around stars to use the energy to mine bitcoin.

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1. Calculate total (USD) mining revenues
2. Estimate what amount of revenue is spent on electricity (mining revenues * 0.6)
3. Estimate how much miners pay per kWh (0.05 USD)
4. Convert costs to consumption

I suspected this method of estimation would be inaccurate, so I tried a different approach of:

1. Take the current hashrate of the bitcoin network (https://blockchain.info/charts/hash-rate)
2. Divide by hashrate of some mining ASIC hardware (https://shop.bitmain.com/specifications.htm?name=antminer_s9_asic_bitcoin_miner) to estimate number of devices mining.
3. Multiply by wattage of that device
4. Multiply by 24 (hours in a day) * 365 (days in a year)

This gives you an alternative estimate of Bitcoin’s annual electricity consumption. The linked article estimates that it is 18.38 terawatt hours.

My estimation approach varies wildly depending on the ASIC device you chose to estimate. The above example uses a very efficient ASIC and comes out at an annual consumption of just 7.65 terawatt hours (http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=(((8,000,000+terahashes+per+second)+%2F+(11+terahashes+per+second))+*+1200+watt+hours+*+24+*+365)+to+terawatt+hours) - 41% of the article’s estimate.

Using a less generous assumption for average ASIC hardware (hashrate and wattage for Antminer S5 https://www.buybitcoinworldwide.com/mining/hardware/antminer-s5/), we get a whopping annual consumption of 35.64 terawatt hours (http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=(((8,000,000+terahashes+per+second)+%2F+(1.16+terahashes+per+second))+*+590+watt+hours+*+24+*+365)+to+terawatt+hours) - 193% of the article’s estimate.

Clicking on the wolfram alpha links will give you some interesting stats, like “Carbon dioxide mass generated by this amount of energy” and “percentage of all power produced by all nuclear power plants”

Conclusion: Their estimate is a pretty wild stab in the dark, but is probably in the right ball park.

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The “Comparing Bitcoin’s energy consumption to other payment systems” section is misleading to the point of being simply wrong.

The VISA network does not exist in isolation, it is part of a larger financial network that costs extreme amounts of energy to upkeep.

These include (but are not limited to):

• The energy costs of producing every single piece of plastic credit card
• The energy costs of producing every chip in that plastic
• The energy costs of building and maintaining physical structures called “bank branches” — which are completely unnecessary with Bitcoin — and the costs of paying the employees who work there, the energy associated with transporting employees to and from the bank, along with the customers to and from the bank
• The energy costs of BRINKS trucks that ship cash
• The energy costs of manufacturing the cash

Etc. etc.

Nobody has done a thorough, scientific study into the real energy costs of the legacy financial system versus Bitcoin and the Lightning Network.

I am certain Bitcoin + LN’s energy costs are far less. I would be extremely surprised if that weren’t the case.

One final note: there is a frequent and highly misleading refrain that “Bitcoin wastes energy” — no. It does not. What is normally used as energy to secure the current financial system (ranging from armed guards to BRINKS trucks to advanced security systems) Bitcoin accomplishes all on its own through the simple hash function. Proof of work does very valuable work — securing the integrity of the distributed ledger.

Re: Proof-of-stake.

There are some things proof-of-stake algorithms simply cannot do that can be highly valuable. These things include:

• Fair, random, initial currency creation and distribution that does not require buy-in using another token
• Creating a chain that maintains an “unhackable” universal sense of time
• Being immune from perpetual zero-cost 51% attack (wherein a single entity accumulates enough stake to buy out the chain into perpetuity, censoring all future consensus participants)

That does not mean proof-of-stake is bad, it just means that there will likely always be room for proof-of-work to provide a valuable service.

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OTOH Bitcoin also does not exist in isolation. They did not factor in

• the energy costs of producing every single piece of computer case used for bitcoin mining
• the energy costs of producing every chip used for mining
• the energy costs of building and maintaining physical structures called “fast internet infrastrucure” – which are completely unnceessary with VISA (which, you know, has been in operation quite a bit longer than the internet) – and the costs of paying ….

etc. etc. (you get my point)

The concerning section compares the energy for running the system for transaction processing. Extrapolating the per transaction energy consumption of 210 KWh to the cited 82.3 billion VISA transactions results in about 17 PWh of energy, roughly 6 times the nuclear power output of the whole world (according to the cited energy production fact sheet).

Sure, Bitcoin + LN or some other solution might solve this, but they are not here yet. Energy consumption is indisputably a worrying aspect of scaling the Bitcoin network.

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the energy costs of producing every single piece of computer case used for bitcoin mining

Computers are not built for the Bitcoin network (ASICs are), whereas say, U.S. Mints are built for the old financial system.

the energy costs of building and maintaining physical structures called “fast internet infrastrucure” – which are completely unnceessary with VISA

Again, the Internet was not built for the Bitcoin network.

You can of course factor these things in if you’d like, but it would be a very silly thing to do because you’d end up factoring in pretty much the entire universe. Even the Sun is needed to run these networks, and I have no idea how much energy that required.

the energy costs of producing every chip used for mining

Sure. And if you sum up the costs the Bitcoin network is almost certainly cheaper.

The concerning section compares the energy for running the system for transaction processing.

Yes, and I was doing the same. VISA transactions don’t work without all of the supporting infrastructure. Bitcoin needs less infrastructure to function.

Extrapolating the per transaction energy consumption of 210 KWh to the cited 82.3 billion VISA transactions results in about 17 PWh of energy,

That is not possible to do in Bitcoin, so such an extrapolation is nonsensical. That is why the Lightning Network exists, and yes it really does exist. There have been various real-world lightning transactions conducted, but you are correct that the software still needs to mature before it’s ready for everyone to use. The conversation is about energy consumption, though.

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And yet the Visa network cannot cost as much per transaction as the Bitcoin network does, because otherwise you’d see it in every transaction.

The existing system does ridiculously more productive work (transactions) than the Bitcoin network. There’s no way around that.

And the Lightning Network doesn’t cost anything, because - and this is the most important thing about it - it doesn’t exist yet.

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Disappointed that they don’t attempt to estimate climate change impact.