Economists estimate that the crypt-exchange industry contributes to the annual emissions of carbon dioxide, comparable in volumes with the exhaust of Hamburg or Las Vegas.
Even though Bitcoin is a virtual currency, its functioning is a particular sector of the economy that requires practical resources. In particular, a lot of electricity is spent on maintaining its existence. The international team of researchers analyzed the icon data, and the IP addresses of the bitcoin mines estimated the energy costs associated with this cryptographic currency and calculated the carbon footprint. The study was published in Joule magazine.
According to researchers, for the servicing of the blockade network of bitcoin, 45.8 terawatts of electricity are consumed annually.
It turns out that, when calculating the carbon footprint, 22 to 22.9 megatons of carbon dioxide have been thrown out in the process of producing such amount of energy into the atmosphere.
According to the calculations, the energy consumption of bitcoin has increased significantly since its announcement. The first generations of miners used ordinary personal computers with a power of 0.01 Giga hems per second, and then the miners switched to graphics processors (GPUs) with a force of 0.2-2 GH / s. Since May 2006, specialist systems based on Integrated Circuits (ASICs) have a capacity of up to 44,000 GH / s.
A study of IP addresses has shown that miners are geographically unevenly distributed. 67% of mining facilities are located in Asian countries, 17% in European, and 15% in North America.
By their work, the authors tried to draw attention to the non-obvious problem of blockchain technology. The high degree of protection of operations requires high production capacity and, accordingly, a large amount of electric power. According to researchers, if we take into account all existing crypto vault, then their total carbon footprint will be twice as much as calculated for the bitcoin.
The spread of technology beyond the scope of cryptography often increases energy consumption, along with which the carbon footprint grows. Emissions of carbon dioxide, which accompany the production of electricity, in turn, lead to an increase in the greenhouse effect on the planet.
According to a recent CoinShares report, 77.6% of electricity, which used the entire bitcoin mining infrastructure in 2018, was derived from renewable energy sources. The mining industry is keen to turn to green energy shortly.
What is more ecological: digital services or physical media?
Not only the proliferation of blockade technology leads to greenhouse emissions. A recent study by scientists from the universities of Oslo and Glasgow has shown that the development of musical streaming services also contributes to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
Methodological studies of the carbon footprint of streaming services and bitcoin are similar. The author’s used data from the American Association of the Recording Industry for 2015 and 2016, estimated the amount of Internet traffic used when listening and downloading music from the services. Knowing the cost of electricity needed to download 1 Gb of data, researchers calculated energy consumption.
The calculations of the carbon footprint, adjusted for the geography of traffic, have shown that musical streaming services result in the emission of greenhouse gases in 10 more than the whole bitcoin industry. In 2016, the streaming audio services infrastructure in the United States alone was responsible for CO2 emissions in the range of 200 to 350 megatons. The electric power consumed by custom gadgets when listening to music from the services was not taken into account by the researchers.
Scientists have also compared the carbon footprint of streaming services and the production of music on physical media. Even at the peak of the creation of vinyl records, the entire industry of music production and sale resulted in twice as much CO2 emissions – no more than 140 megatons a year. However, another problem is associated with physical carriers – about 58 megatons of plastic waste annually.
The study of the carbon footprint of video games in the UK has also shown that physical carriers produce fewer CO2 emissions than digital services. The eco-friendly of cloud services are physical carriers if they acquire them on the secondary market. The results of this study are valid only for the British video game industry of the PlayStation console. The authors plan to extend the geographic scope of their research to make a comparison of the carbon footprint of analog carriers and digital services more correct.
Streaming services seek to reduce the carbon footprint and translate their data centers into renewable energy sources. So, Spotify’s 2017 Sustainability Report said that by the end of 2018, most of the server operations will be transferred to the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) platform. The transition to the Google platform has already helped reduce the carbon footprint by 1.5 megatons a year. By the end of 2019, a complete change must be completed, and the service will become carbon neutral. In 2018, Apple announced the full development of all of the company’s premises to 43 countries around the world for renewable energy.
The purpose of the research from this review was not to encourage ecologically responsible users to refuse to use digital services and virtual currencies. Their authors wanted to draw the public’s attention to the less obvious links between the digital economy, energy and greenhouse emissions, and promote rational energy consumption. If these data made some of the readers think about how his everyday habits and lifestyle influence the nature, they could recommend the development of an ecologist from the Moscow State University Andrei Stetsenko: together with his colleagues, he created a CO2 calculator, with which you can find out your carbon footprint.