back to article Great Scott! Bitcoin to consume half a per cent of the world's electricity by end of year

The energy required by the Bitcoin fad has been forecast to hit half a per cent of the world's entire electricity supply by the end of 2018. With the network estimated to already be consuming 2.55 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power most of Ireland (or send a couple of Deloreans back a few years to before the Bitcoin …

  1. LeahroyNake Bronze badge

    Great Scott

    That's a lot of power that could be put to better use or maybe just not used at all.

    Some people are making a lot of money, I'm guessing the canny ones will cash out before the bubble pops.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Great Scott

      I wonder how much all the global offices of PWC and all the other of their ilk use?

      At least come the Mad Max style eco-pocalypse you can eat accountants

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Great Scott

      I bet a good percentage is spent on, say, displaying white pixels on computers for Google's home page.

      On World Eco day they once went black and estimated the savings worldwide and it was a significant chunk.

      Fact is, it's not money wasted if you profit from it personally, and many people who use Bitcoin are profiting from it even if they aren't millionaires or immune to the risk of it tanking overnight.

      An alternate shot-in-the-arm is "Bitcoin creates jobs and increases product demands at electricity suppliers". It's not like they aren't PAYING for the electricity. And if people choose to pay for it, it gets taxed and (you would hope) invested into the electricity network. And, of course, they choose to pay because someone, somewhere will give them MORE money than the electricity costs to do it themselves, or they wouldn't bother.

      I never get these anti-Bitcoin arguments. If someone was staring at a screen for 8 hours a day catching silly balls when they could be working - yes, we have a problem as a culture. That someone legitimately pays for a product, transforms it, and sells it on... why is that a problem?

      If we then say "Oh, well, look, we're short of electricity", then surely it means the electricity company needs to profit as much as it can so they can provide more of it and investigate new ways to make more, and more cheaply.

      It's like complaining that bookshops exist. If people weren't buying their product, they wouldn't exist.

      1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

        Re: Great Scott

        @Lee D - "It's not like they aren't PAYING for the electricity"

        Are you sure?

        Power spike leads Chinese police to 600-machine mining rig

        "That someone legitimately pays for a product, transforms it, and sells it on... why is that a problem?"

        Externalities, opportunity costs: We die from pollution and global warming, and don't solve world hunger because of the extra electricity used and the rising cost of power.

        Also, it makes Governments look dumb for asking people to use energy-saving lightbulbs.

      2. BlueTemplar

        Re: Great Scott

        "I bet a good percentage is spent on, say, displaying white pixels on computers for Google's home page.

        On World Eco day they once went black and estimated the savings worldwide and it was a significant chunk."

        Source?

        This doesn't make sense, most displays are LCDs these days, and those don't consume less by displaying black... (because the fluorescent/LED backlight is always on)

      3. c1ue

        Re: Great Scott

        Nice try but a fail.

        The entire US' energy consumption for computing was calculated by the NREL back in 2001: http://www2.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/net-energy-studies.html

        To put in terms of the article - which is presumably GW per hour - total computing and networking electricity consumption in the US in 2001 (peak of the Internet 1.0 bubble) was ~2 percent or ~8.4 GW per hour rate.

        Or put another way: Bitcoin electricity consumption today uses 30% as much juice as the entire US computing and networking infrastructure in 2001 - the peak of Internet Bubble 1.0. The US consumes about 1/4.5 of the overall world's electricity; if the computing percentage is equivalent worldwide (which it is not clearly either higher or lower), then bitcoin alone is consuming 6.7% as much as the entire world's computing and network electricity usage. This is ludicrously high.

        While internet usage has increased since then as has computing, efficiency has also increased - so it is unclear if the overall US computing consumption number has increased or decreased. Certainly overall US electricity consumption has not changed much since 2001 (3,9__ TWh in 2001 vs. 4,0__ Twh today).

      4. d3vy Silver badge

        Re: Great Scott

        "Fact is, it's not money wasted if you profit from it personally, and many people who use Bitcoin are profiting from it even if they aren't millionaires or immune to the risk of it tanking overnight."

        It's power waster though.. solving each block is a race, first to solve wins, all the other miners have wasted their power

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Great Scott

      It won't be used. The miners are already running at a loss or at best barely breaking even. For the amount of electricity to go up by a factor of 3 the price if bitcoin would have to go up by the same amount.

      1. PyLETS

        How much leccy do miners actually pay for ?

        This influences rational behaviour. If my local sysadmins ask us to leave several thousand machines running over the weekend for "essential security updates" it makes you wonder what else they're doing with all that machinery. This goes all the way to people accepting an app which they don't pay for and has a mining trojan, viruses running on botnets and teenagers wasting their parents electricity bill.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Great Scott

      "8.92 gigawatts of electricity consumed, exceeding that of Austria."

      >That's a lot of power that could be put to better use.

      Yep - for only another 0.7GW (9.62GW) you could launch a Space Shuttle.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Great Scott

        >Yep - for only another 0.7GW (9.62GW) you could launch a Space Shuttle.

        Which is part of why NASA was willing to say adios even before they had a replacement. The Space Shuttle was everything that was wrong with the Concorde on steroids. Granted would always prefer energy is spent on space exploration than unicorns but have to be smart in getting the most bang for our buck for the limited resources that often get diverted for bombing brown people.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Great Scott

        "Yep - for only another 0.7GW (9.62GW) you could launch a Space Shuttle."

        Which would take a couple of minutes. Bitcoin is burning electricity 24X7

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Great Scott

          >Bitcoin is burning electricity 24X7

          The figures being discussed are the annual usage - and wildly estimated in extremis - they bear no resemblance to actual usage (in US power is about 18% of production cost - but it's a fraction of that for the massive mines in Iceland where cooling is free and geothermal power very cheap)

      3. atodd

        Re: Great Scott

        GW is a rate of consumption not an amount of energy used so this doesn't make sense. Where did you get the figure? Did it say GWh perhaps?

    5. Rob Fisher

      Re: Great Scott

      "That's a lot of power that could be put to better use"

      Could it really, though? Bitcoin mining is only profitable where electricity is cheapest. I.e where there is a surplus that probably wouldn't be used for anything else.

    6. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Great Scott

      Some people are making a lot of money

      The power companies, presumably. Somewhere in Siberia there is a village devoted to mining and it uses the heat generated to keep warm. Handy in the winter…

  2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Does not include ...

    If the mining hardware is situated in a room/building that would normally require heating, then the amount of power that would have been needed to heat the room should be subtracted.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Does not include ...

      A few years ago people were offering mining rigs for free in Canada, you ran them in place of heaters in winter and the makers got the bitcoin

    2. vir

      Re: Does not include ...

      Ah but if the hardware is situated in a room that now requires additional cooling, that power should be added as well.

    3. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

      Re: Does not include ...

      How much noise does a typical mining rig - one that would be powerful enough to contribute significantly to keeping a room warm - generate?

      1. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ

        Re: Does not include ...

        How much noise does a typical mining rig - one that would be powerful enough to contribute significantly to keeping a room warm - generate?

        Quite a lot.... My rigs have to be housed in the basement, they were in the next room, but I could hear the hum of over 40 fans....

        1. VikiAi Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Does not include ...

          Would depend on if you are using active or passive cooling. I have a a few 2ft-square aluminium BBQ grilles that make nice passive heatsinks for a few of my experimental processing rigs (not coin-mining, but same type of work).

  3. Neil Charles

    CFC's

    Somebody's mining operation needed a cooling system?

    https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/ozone-hole-chemicals-cfc-increase-mystery-source-east-asia-antarctica-a8354481.html

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: CFC's

      Modern industrial cooling installations simply do not have the "escape rate" to explain the spike size. It would have to be a pretty crap aircon to leak that much.

      It is more likely that this is construction and/or household chemicals - freon used for foam and propellant. Once again (and as usual) a Chinese manufacturer not giving a damn about environmental regs.

  4. Daggerchild Silver badge
    Boffin

    Black Mirror, yet again..

    Easily solved.

    Using patented BikeChain technology, all bitcoins must, by law, be generated using electricity produced only by the owner's musclepower.

    1. Jay Lenovo Silver badge

      Re: Black Mirror, yet again..

      Rumor has it, bitcoin may also be powered by tulips.

      Buy now before you get left out.

      1. emmanuel goldstein

        Re: Black Mirror, yet again..

        I think the old "tulip" trope is getting a bit, er, old. Bitcoin et al. are becoming more and more assimilated into the mainstream banking system in particular and into 21st century culture in general. Ignore and mock all you want but I suspect you will turn out to be on the wrong side of history.

        1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

          Re: Black Mirror, yet again..

          Bitcoin et al. are becoming more and more assimilated into the mainstream banking system

          lol no

          1. VikiAi Silver badge

            Re: Black Mirror, yet again..

            Certain (potentially actually useful) aspects of blockchain transaction tracking are being looked at by the mainstream banking system, likely.

            Bitcoin et. al. probably not so much.

  5. ratfox Silver badge

    Wonderful

    It's amazing to think people might soon start using global warming as a reason to make bitcoin mining illegal.

    It has happened four times since 2011 that the bitcoin price went 10x in a few months. If it does that again, it's going to have such an impact that I think governments will intervene.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Wonderful

      What would be their reasoning? I don't see that they would really care about some people valuing big numbers, or small ones actually, at a lot of money as a big issue. Also, it would be rather difficult to prevent cryptominers from operating, as it could be hard to tell if someone was using power for that or something else. It's always easy to find a country that cares less about something if you want--it seems that the Chinese miners find it rather straightforward to steal electricity, so if some other country tried to ban mining, you could just set up there.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Wonderful

      Hopefully next time there's a 10x move in a few months it'll be the bubble popping and the cryptocurrency nonsense can die a well deserved death.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wonderful

        We're on the what? 4th? 5th bitcoin bubble?

        Good luck with that...

    3. DuncanLarge Bronze badge

      Re: Wonderful

      "I think governments will intervene."

      A government that thinks it can intervene is living in a fantasy land.

      I guess the UK government qualifies as they already proved they dont know the difference between dreams and reality when they started trying to fiddle with the maths of encryption.

      https://goo.gl/images/LunXPM

  6. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    What a load of bollocks this bitcoin is!

    Going up to 900KWh per transaction? That would be around US$45 per transaction at those quoted rates of $0.05 per KWh! Can someone provide a viable use-case for bitcoins? Not just a fanciful one, but one that makes even a tiny bit of sense?

    And something that'll consume more than a few % of the world's entire electricity output? For what exactly? What is the actual benefit over, say, the current banking system, which flawed though it may be, at least isn't quite that energy-hungry.

    I've said this before, but as far as I can see, bitcoin is only a tool used by criminals and hackers. It has no real-world application. Not really. Not when you think about it.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: What a load of bollocks this bitcoin is!

      What is the actual benefit over, say, the current banking system, which flawed though it may be, at least isn't quite that energy-hungry.

      Well.. there's the mining PC themselves... someone's making money on them. The power companies make money. Hmm.. other benefits....? Have to get back to you on this one.

      It used to be that only governments could "create" or issue money. With Bitcoin, et al, that has left the hands of government. So maybe that's a use?

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: What a load of bollocks this bitcoin is!

        It used to be that only governments could "create" or issue money. With Bitcoin, et al, that has left the hands of government. So maybe that's a use?

        Bitcoin (and all other cryptocoins) aren't creating any money. They're just moving existing money into the hands of early adopters and electricity generators. There's no economic productivity involved.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          You want to create money

          There are lots of ways:

          - dig up some gold, silver, diamonds, or something else of value

          - turn a canvas and oil paints into a masterpiece

          - write the great American novel

          - write the next killer app

          You aren't creating money when you "mine" a bitcoin, anymore than you create money by finding a $100 bill someone accidentally dropped on the sidewalk.

    2. Alphebatical

      Re: What a load of bollocks this bitcoin is!

      > Can someone provide a viable use-case for bitcoins? Not just a fanciful one, but one that makes even a tiny bit of sense?

      Not anymore, which is why Bitcoin Cash was created: to return to the original idea of a decentralized currency.

    3. emmanuel goldstein

      Re: What a load of bollocks this bitcoin is!

      I've said this before, but as far as I can see, bitcoin is only a tool used by criminals and hackers. It has no real-world application. Not really. Not when you think about it.

      With all due respect, that statement says more about your lack of vision and, dare I say it, ignorance of the technology, than it says about crypto-currencies.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What a load of bollocks this bitcoin is!

      I've said this before, but as far as I can see, bitcoin is only a tool used by criminals and hackers. It has no real-world application. Not really. Not when you think about it.

      its that attitude that prevents it from being used mainstream. if everyone thinks its just for criminals and hackers...

      If you want a real world application, heres one... you pay for something online. Its an internet equivalent of a cash transaction. heres another one. Its digital currency I can pay for something that its not the banks or anyone else's business what it is.

      admittedly its a near perfect platform for criminals, but don't think for a minute that its not tractable...

      1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

        Re: What a load of bollocks this bitcoin is!

        I don't fully understand the technology - I'll be the first to admit that. But what the hell is the point of a currency that needs 900KWh of energy to verify a transaction? And it's not just my attitude that prevents it becoming mainstream. It's fiendishly complex to use (especially buying and selling) and it seems that every other site that purports to help you convert bitcoins is trying to scam you.

        No way is it ready for prime time... it needs to be simplified, made more efficient and regulated.

        Your point that it's nobody's business what a transaction is, doesn't take into account that each individual piece of bitcoin can be tracked. So proceeds from crime (eg ransomware) end up being easily traced.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What a load of bollocks this bitcoin is!

          It doesn't *need* "900KWh of energy to verify a transaction".

          It *did* need a way to incentivize miners to run the network.

          One would be right to say that *currently* it gives too much to miners

          (the reward halves every ~4 years until it's 0 in ~2100),

          but, as they say, "hindsight is 20/20"...

      2. strum Silver badge

        Re: What a load of bollocks this bitcoin is!

        >If you want a real world application, heres one... you pay for something online.

        Like what, for instance? The transaction costs are enormous - make VISA fees look generous.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Can someone provide a viable use-case for bitcoins?"

      Sure. Money laundering.

      1. DuncanLarge Bronze badge

        Re: "Can someone provide a viable use-case for bitcoins?"

        ""Can someone provide a viable use-case for bitcoins?""

        Freeing the human populace from government and world bank oppression.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What a load of bollocks this bitcoin is!

      >That would be around US$45 per transaction at those quoted rates of $0.05 per KWh!

      Not far off the median transaction cost just before Xmas (approaching $40 then) - it's now about 75 cents.

      Time to do a little more reading - you should probably start with finding out what a transaction actually is in this context.

  7. The Nazz Silver badge

    Faecesbook and Twitter et al?

    So what is the estimated % used by such as faecesbook and twitter?

    At least faecesbook has some use, connecting friends and groups. Twitter not so.

    And all the hot air produced by twats ( isn't that the name given to twitter users?) leading to global warming, shouldn't that be banned too.

    Huh, what's that? Global warming is now Global change.

    1. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: Faecesbook and Twitter et al?

      Twitter _is_ useful: it shows the World how clownish Trumpy is.

    2. BlueTemplar

      Re: Faecesbook and Twitter et al?

      "Watts for twats!"

  8. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    New form factor for computers

    Computers should be shaped to resemble electric baseboard heaters. In fact, resistive baseboard heaters should be banned, and all baseboard heaters should be Network-enabled CPU farms, with a government incentive sponsoring their installation. The wall-mounted thermostat would simply initiate start-up and controlled shutdown.

    One trivial residual issue is the lack of population in the extreme South. Somehow we need to convince several billion people to move to (for example) South Georgia Island, so that we'll have substantial heating demand during the Northern summer. That shouldn't be too difficult.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    cost of real money?

    anyone done a study of the costs of current physical money (coins, production of, transportation of, same with notes) and of credit cards, production of, delivery of, statements for), payment terminals (wireless and fixed) , ATMs , the filling of etc and worked out that energy use? just saying.....

    1. midcapwarrior

      Re: cost of real money?

      Yes they have

    2. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: cost of real money?

      I have done this study:

      Bitcoin uses about the same amount of electricity as the entire country of Ireland uses for everything.

      Transaction volume on the bitcoin network is equivalent to everyone in Ireland doing two transactions per month.

      The EU average is that everyone does 17 transactions per month.

      So even if every single kWh of electricity in Ireland was used to support the currency / banking network, it would be 8.5x more efficient than Bitcoin.

      In reality, the proportion used by banks is so small, that it is included in the "other" category.

      1. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ

        Re: cost of real money?

        So even if every single kWh of electricity in Ireland was used to support the currency / banking network, it would be 8.5x more efficient than Bitcoin.

        you are missing the point of how bitcoin works.... the amount of electricity used is not just to support transactions but for mining new coins as well, so in your calculations you need to take into account the cost of not only banking transactions, but the cost of making bank notes and coins, distributing them and replacing them as well as the gold value that sterling is an equivalent to...

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: cost of real money?

          It is 8.5x the electricity used for *everything*, so if you buy a coffee in Ireland using your laser card, I am even including the electricity used to boil the water, heat the shop, grind the coffee beans.

    3. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: cost of real money?

      I can tell you with 100% certainty that when I bought a coffee this morning, the transaction didn't require the combustion of 140 kg of coal.

  10. JuJuBalt

    The should invent a new coin called s--e-x coin who value is based on all the energy consumed during rumpy pumpy

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The should invent a new coin called s--e-x coin who value is based on all the energy consumed during rumpy pumpy

      actually starting a new cryptocurrency is very easy. the hard bit is giving value to the the original currency offering, then encouraging people to mine/trade them.

      1. GrapeBunch Bronze badge

        They should invent a new coin called s--e-x coin who value is based on all the energy consumed during rumpy pumpy.

        actually starting a new cryptocurrency is very easy. the hard bit is giving value to the original currency offering, then encouraging people to mine/trade them.

        I believe that is what the honourable JuJuBalt had in mind.

  11. Mayday Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Reaching cost/gain limit

    Everyone here is rightly saying that electricity costs (both in equipment power, cooling, maintenance and whatever else) are starting to cost as much as the end product.

    Next step is electricity theft similar to what weed growers use when they bypass the meter for their hydro farms. I'm presuming this is already happening too.

    1. VikiAi Silver badge

      Re: Reaching cost/gain limit

      I imagine it is. But I also imagine that years of dealing with the mentioned weed farmers mean utilities are already quite good at identifying the sinks.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Reaching cost/gain limit

        Didn't a bitcoin miner get "busted" by cops circa 2011 because they thought by his electrical consumption that he was using it to grow weed?

  12. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Mad World

    All this energy used to pay ransoms to cybercooks and to try to make profit from a speculative bubble :sigh:

  13. psychonaut

    Why dont they make the computations usefull rather than pointless? Im thinking of the old SETI screen saver (20yrs ago...)and there was a medical number cruncher as well...solving arbitrary problems is a waste of energy and time.

    1. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Why dont they make the computations usefull rather than pointless? Im thinking of the old SETI screen saver (20yrs ago...)and there was a medical number cruncher as well

      You mean Folding@home I presume?

      Problem is, you can't expect speculating to make money from that, just helping real people in the real life.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      From what I've heard - no, because any "useful" calculation (besides for heating) would not be nearly strong cryptographically.

      (But several projects still try.)

      1. psychonaut

        ok, i may be being thick here. why cant we reward someone for doing x amount of computations instead of rewarding someone for doing x amount of useless computations?

        like generate 1 NHScoin every time you work out how many useless managers there are in a given department?

        1 NHScoin can be redeemed to put your appointment ahead by, say, 1 hour, for a , say, category c injury (mild headache, or something that you think needs antibiotics).

        or similar. the possibilities are endless.

        1. d3vy Silver badge

          The computations are not useless, there is an end goal that needs to be reached and you can't just drop in another algorithm which gives a different result and expect it to still work.

          The current process is to (as I understand it) find a value that when fed into a function with the previous blocks hash and the hash of the current block gives you a prime number (I might have really misunderstood this, thinking about what would be involved... I must be wrong, but it's along those lines).

          So changing the algorithm to give you the result of some protein folding exercise isn't going to work.

          1. psychonaut

            ok, whatever the calculation is, is has a result. when you arrive at the result, you get a bitcoin. or something similar right?

            the end result is useless, unless your only goal is to make money. in which case, it is usefull.

            but, if you could make money and also perform a useful calculation....

            so give it a different problem. one where the answer is usefull but as yet unknown.

            there must be millions of unknown chemical compounds / seti data / methods of mixing chemicals / protein structures / christ knows....lots of things that could be worked out but havent been yet.

  14. Pat Harkin

    Let's make money...

    ...by heating the planet! What can go wrong? We'll make our fortunes, cash out and retire to our tropical beachside villa in Reykjavic.

  15. GIRZiM Bronze badge

    Rational Behaviour

    When the 'rational behaviour' so beloved of economists can be relied upon to eliminate the 'sunk costs fallacy', I'll believe in their 'rational actors'. Until then I'll stick to my decades-long observation of human psychology and behaviour and go with the hypothesis that economists are paid too much to be rational observers of reality - because they don't live in it themselves.

  16. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Puts things into prospective when only yesterday, I was complaining that my girlfriend was wasting electricity because she had left the computer and monitor switch on all day waiting for an email reply to come through.

  17. Cuddles Silver badge

    Bitcoin

    "Rational behaviour "

    Ha!

  18. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Is Bitcoin really still a thing? I thought had gone the way of Myspace and Geocities.

  19. cutterman

    Money ill-spent

    Invest the money that you would have paid for your mining farm/'lekky wisely (Nvidia anyone?) and you'll outperform Bitcoin by a fair amount.

    Foolish (as Warren Buffett points out)

    Mac

    1. JulieM Silver badge

      Re: Money ill-spent

      A.K.A., when there's a gold rush on, open a hardware store.

  20. sawatts

    Quantum

    Until the first quantum computer arrives -- and the lucky owner mines all the remaining BitCoins...

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