As cryptocurrency and blockchain technology advances, the environment is suffering. For some, the answer to offsetting the environmental impact of cryptocurrency is–you guessed it–more cryptocurrency.
Bitcoin mining is a notorious energy suck. This has sent crypto mining operations to places in the world with the lowest cost for electricity like China, Iceland, and the US-Canada Border. But of course, wherever crypto mining goes, it’s met with equal pushback from local communities and governments due to spiking energy rates. Raising the demand for power means that more electricity will be generated by heavy polluters. By anyone’s metric, the demand is skyrocketing. If you add up all of the power used to mine Bitcoin, it would be equal to the thirty-ninth highest energy consuming nation in the world.
The Cost of Crypto
Bitcoin mining consumed around 15 twh in August of 2017. Currently, that number hovers around 74 twh. This only accounts for Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash. Meanwhile, Ethereum mining currently sits at 21 twh, or equal to the country of Azerbaijan. These figures don’t account for the hundreds of other altcoins that are being mined or will be mined in the future.
The problem of massive energy consumption has led to legislation against Bitcoin mining facilities in Quebec, Plattsburgh, and Iceland. The ultimate problem is this: there is massive wealth to be gained at the expense of the environment and strain on municipal services. If history can be used as a guide, valuable commodities are more than enough incentive to work around environmental regulations and public opinion.
Pushing the Market for Renewables?
Bitcoin enthusiasts tend to claim that in the long run, cryptocurrencies are helping to encourage renewables by creating a demand for energy. This argument rings a bit like the cigarette industry encouraging people to become lung doctors. However, with this problem in mind, several cryptocurrencies have entered the marketplace with an eye on subverting the environmental issues of cryptocurrency by bringing new cryptocurrencies to the market.
Coins to the Rescue
Tokens like SolarCoin and EnergyCoin have come to the field utilizing less power for their computational methodologies. While SolarCoins can only be claimed by utilization of solar power, EnergyCoins are meant to incentivize growth of the renewable energy sector. Neither of these currencies are a party to the distributed governance model of Bitcoin, much to the dismay of Bitcoin purists. More to the point, both currencies are valued around one cent at the moment. As with other industries, good intentions are rarely enough to move bottom lines.
Bitcoin Green, another cryptocurrency recently launched, has labeled their namesake, Bitcoin, as “an existential threat to our beautiful planet.” This currency operates on a proof of stake rather than proof of work model. This means that mining can be done without the specialized equipment used to mine Bitcoin. This also allows everyone to enter the mining game by benefiting everyone who runs a master node.
Jake Berlin, project collaborator with Bitcoin Green, spoke with BTCManager over email and stated “The mission we choose to uphold has attracted a driven and dedicated community who are continually galvanized to support proof of stake and socially responsible forms of technological innovation.” For Bitcoin Green, this is about winning a war and not a single battle. Berlin also stated:
“We’re still on the cusp of bringing the issue of Bitcoin’s lack of sustainability to the forefront of public consciousness. Problems this big, however, have a tendency to force a discourse. If we continue our focused approach to building awareness alongside a fully functioning proof of stake cryptocurrency, we’re confident that the community at large will take note.”
This is no small task, given that Bitcoin Green is looking to change the essential architecture of an immensely valuable business. Bitcoin is a crypto-juggernaut which is turning profits in spite of environmental degradation. Hopefully, SolarCoin, EnergyCoin, and Bitcoin Green will be enough to turn the tide before crypto mining turns the lights out.
Blockchain has offered a number of solutions aimed at encouraging renewables and driving the cost of energy down. Recently, the Australian blockchain company, Power Ledger, launched their first attempt to power a residential apartment complex on their renewable marketplace. The company issues cryptocurrencies which are exchanged on the marketplace in so that a decentralized community can reach a reasonable price for renewable power among themselves. But creating renewables for its own sake does not necessarily take more environmentally damaging energy architecture offline. More demand for electricity means more demand for electricity, full stop. A highly valuable security like Bitcoin is more than enough incentive to push growth of the entire energy market regardless of where it comes from.