How Boundaries Can Help the Blockchain to Scale
The blockchain offers a long overdue upgrade for our changing economy.
However, the world isn’t quite ready for broadscale blockchain adoption. The technology is still in its relative infancy, and to reach its true potential the blockchain must be able to successfully replace existing systems while also operating at meaningful scale.
Today’s infographic comes to us from eXeBlock Technology, and it explores how good blockchain governance can help solve the pressing challenges around blockchain adoption and implementation, including the ever-present issue of scalability.
So You Say You Want A Blockchain
While it’s relatively easy to implement a blockchain in an organization, it’s far more difficult to decide just how that network should operate. For a blockchain to generate and hold any real competitive advantage, there are a few key questions to consider:
How big can you grow before sacrificing efficiency? As the blockchain grows, so do the number of nodes to process transactions. This creates a bottleneck and slows down the system.
What are your privacy needs? The attraction of the blockchain lies in its ability to decentralize information and make it transparent, but this creates a challenge for corporations who use the blockchain to handle sensitive or proprietary information.
Will your blockchain play nicely with other blockchains? There are a number of blockchain configurations – and to date, no cross-industry standards. This means your blockchain might not collaborate smoothly with another blockchain, particularly if the security standards are mismatched.
How Can Blockchain Governance Help?
Blockchain governance is concerned with solving these problems by:
- Reducing scalability obstacles by finding ways for blockchains to reach consensus faster without sacrificing decentralization
- Providing a foundation for shared standards, so organizations can collaborate without risking the privacy of their data
- Providing a framework for adaptability – a playbook for the blockchain to rely on when inevitable problems and security issues crop up
Think of governance as a constitution to help the blockchain run smoothly: it improves efficiency, encourages collaboration, and outlines a course of action when the system falters.
Types of Blockchains
There are four different types of blockchains, each with unique characteristics:
- Operates under the leadership of a group, and access is limited to only members of the group
- Due to limited membership, they are faster, can scale higher, and offer more transaction privacy
- Access might be public or restricted, but only a few users are given permission to view and verify transactions
- Ideal for database management or auditing services, where data privacy is an issue
- Compliance can be automated, as the organization has control over the code
- Open-source and available to the public
- Transactions are transparent to anyone on the network with a block viewer, but anonymous.
- The ultimate democracy – this fully distributed ledger disrupts current business models by removing the middleman
- Minimal costs involved: no need to maintain servers or system admins
- A public blockchain, which hosts a private network with restricted participation
- The private network generates blocks of hashed data stored on the public blockchain, but without sacrificing data privacy
- Flexible control over what data is kept private and what is shared on the public ledger
- Hybrid blockchains offer the benefits of decentralisation and scalability, without requiring consensus from every single node on the network
Within each of these systems, blockchain governance outlines different standards for privacy and security. Governance determines how consensus is reached, and how many nodes are required. It establishes who has access to what information, and how that data is encrypted. Governance sets up the foundations for blockchains to scale according to the needs of the organization.
Blockchain governance exists to smooth the transition to widespread adoption, providing organizations with dynamic solutions to make their blockchain suit their needs without sacrificing the security of decentralization.
Visualizing the Power Consumption of Bitcoin Mining
Bitcoin mining requires significant amounts of energy, but what does this consumption look like when compared to countries and companies?
Visualizing the Power Consumption of Bitcoin Mining
Cryptocurrencies have been some of the most talked-about assets in recent months, with bitcoin and ether prices reaching record highs. These gains were driven by a flurry of announcements, including increased adoption by businesses and institutions.
Lesser known, however, is just how much electricity is required to power the Bitcoin network. To put this into perspective, we’ve used data from the University of Cambridge’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index (CBECI) to compare Bitcoin’s power consumption with a variety of countries and companies.
Why Does Bitcoin Mining Require So Much Power?
When people mine bitcoins, what they’re really doing is updating the ledger of Bitcoin transactions, also known as the blockchain. This requires them to solve numerical puzzles which have a 64-digit hexadecimal solution known as a hash.
Miners may be rewarded with bitcoins, but only if they arrive at the solution before others. It is for this reason that Bitcoin mining facilities—warehouses filled with computers—have been popping up around the world.
These facilities enable miners to scale up their hashrate, also known as the number of hashes produced each second. A higher hashrate requires greater amounts of electricity, and in some cases can even overload local infrastructure.
Putting Bitcoin’s Power Consumption Into Perspective
On March 18, 2021, the annual power consumption of the Bitcoin network was estimated to be 129 terawatt-hours (TWh). Here’s how this number compares to a selection of countries, companies, and more.
|Name||Population||Annual Electricity Consumption (TWh)|
|All of the world’s data centers||-||205|
|State of New York||19.3M||161|
|Walt Disney World Resort (Florida)||-||1|
Note: A terawatt hour (TWh) is a measure of electricity that represents 1 trillion watts sustained for one hour.
Source: Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance, Science Mag, New York ISO, Forbes, Facebook, Reedy Creek Improvement District, Worldometer
If Bitcoin were a country, it would rank 29th out of a theoretical 196, narrowly exceeding Norway’s consumption of 124 TWh. When compared to larger countries like the U.S. (3,989 TWh) and China (6,543 TWh), the cryptocurrency’s energy consumption is relatively light.
For further comparison, the Bitcoin network consumes 1,708% more electricity than Google, but 39% less than all of the world’s data centers—together, these represent over 2 trillion gigabytes of storage.
Where Does This Energy Come From?
In a 2020 report by the University of Cambridge, researchers found that 76% of cryptominers rely on some degree of renewable energy to power their operations. There’s still room for improvement, though, as renewables account for just 39% of cryptomining’s total energy consumption.
Here’s how the share of cryptominers that use each energy type vary across four global regions.
|Energy Source||Asia-Pacific||Europe||Latin America|
and the Caribbean
Source: University of Cambridge
Editor’s note: Numbers in each column are not meant to add to 100%
Hydroelectric energy is the most common source globally, and it gets used by at least 60% of cryptominers across all four regions. Other types of clean energy such as wind and solar appear to be less popular.
Coal energy plays a significant role in the Asia-Pacific region, and was the only source to match hydroelectricity in terms of usage. This can be largely attributed to China, which is currently the world’s largest consumer of coal.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge noted that they weren’t surprised by these findings, as the Chinese government’s strategy to ensure energy self-sufficiency has led to an oversupply of both hydroelectric and coal power plants.
Towards a Greener Crypto Future
As cryptocurrencies move further into the mainstream, it’s likely that governments and other regulators will turn their attention to the industry’s carbon footprint. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however.
Mike Colyer, CEO of Foundry, a blockchain financing provider, believes that cryptomining can support the global transition to renewable energy. More specifically, he believes that clustering cryptomining facilities near renewable energy projects can mitigate a common issue: an oversupply of electricity.
“It allows for a faster payback on solar projects or wind projects… because they would [otherwise] produce too much energy for the grid in that area”
– Mike Colyer, CEO, Foundry
This type of thinking appears to be taking hold in China as well. In April 2020, Ya’an, a city located in China’s Sichuan province, issued a public guidance encouraging blockchain firms to take advantage of its excess hydroelectricity.
Mapping the Most Important Ethereum Forks
Ethereum is the world’s second biggest cryptocurrency by market cap. This graphic maps the major forks that have defined Ethereum’s growth to date.
Mapping the Major Ethereum Forks
Many people are familiar with blockchain technology, but did you know that Ethereum has the largest and most active blockchain community in the world?
Unlike many other blockchain networks, Ethereum is programmable. This customizable feature has enabled developers to solve problems ranging from digital identification and privacy, to corporate ownership and data security.
When the blockchain community disagrees on what changes the network needs to function smoothly or when such changes should take place, developers plan for a fork (an offshoot) of the underlying code rules.
Today’s graphic maps out the major Ethereum blockchain forks that have occurred to date, highlighting key events that surrounded each of these updates. It also includes details on the highly anticipated Istanbul hard fork, planned for December 2019.
Four Types of Forks
Forks are common practice in the software industry, and happen for one of two reasons: split opinions within the community, and required changes to the blockchain code.
When either reason is discussed, four major types of forks can occur.
- Codebase Forks: Copy of the original code, to allow for minor tweaks without developing the whole blockchain code from scratch.
- Blockchain Forks: Branching or splitting a blockchain’s whole transaction history, causing the new network to develop a distinct identity.
- Soft Forks: Gradual software upgrades—bug fixes, security checks, and new features.
- Hard Forks: A permanent division of the blockchain.
There are currently three types of hard forks:
Scheduled upgrades to the network, often abandoning the old chain
Community disagreements cause major code changes, forming a new chain
- Spin-off Coins
Minor changes to the blockchain’s code that create new coins
Let’s dive into the timeline of major Ethereum forks, and explore a few of their defining moments and characteristics.
Mapping the Major Ethereum Forks
Below are some of the most prominent and important forks—both hard and soft—on the Ethereum blockchain since its launch.
Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum, and his team finished the 9th and final proof of concept known as Olympic in May 2015. The Ethereum blockchain, also known as Frontier, went live shortly after, on July 30, 2015.
Also known as “Frontier Thawing”, this was the first (unplanned) fork of the Ethereum blockchain, providing security and speed updates to the network.
Homestead is widely considered Phase 2 of Ethereum’s development evolution. This rollout included three critical updates to Ethereum: the removal of centralization on the network, enabling users to hold and transact with ETH, and to write and deploy smart contracts.
The Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) event was the most contentious event in Ethereum’s short history. The DAO team raised US$150 million through a 2016 token sale—but an unknown hacker stole US$50 million in ether (ETH), prompting the developer community to hard fork in order to recover the stolen funds.
Widely regarded as the only Ethereum fork of any significance, this hard fork was based on the controversial DAO event. The original chain became known as Ethereum Classic, and the new chain moved forward as the main Ethereum chain.
This September 2019 hard fork event required all software users to upgrade their clients in order to stay with the current network. Enhancements included better security, stability, and network performance for higher volumes of traffic.
Regarded as the third phase of Ethereum’s evolution, the Metropolis-Byzantium soft fork functioned more like an operating system upgrade, rather than a full split.
Constantinople is the current version of the Ethereum blockchain. This hard fork occurred concurrently with the St. Petersburg update. Important changes included closing a major security loophole that could have allowed hackers to easily access users’ funds.
Constantinople’s most notable improvements include smart contracts being able to verify each other using only the unique string of computer code of another smart contract, and reduced gas fees─namely, the price users pay to process transactions more quickly.
Future Forks in the Road
The Ethereum community is preparing for the next hard fork event Istanbul, scheduled for release on December 4th, 2019.
Ethereum’s 4th and projected final stage of development is Serenity, which has yet to be scheduled. Community members have speculated what changes will come with Serenity, but many agree that the Ethereum blockchain will shift focus from Proof of Work to Proof of Stake.
- Proof of Work (PoW): “Miners” are rewarded with cryptocurrency for solving puzzles that process and post blocks of data to the network
- Proof of Stake (PoS): Miners are chosen from a pool of miners, based on the stake of cryptocurrency they bid; no puzzle = no reward
Proof of Stake means that there is less competition for completing blocks of data, significantly reducing the energy required to process data. Currently, a single Bitcoin transaction consumes the same electricity as 1.75 American households do in a day.
Ethereum Leads the Way
Ethereum continues to be a leading blockchain platform, with the highest number of decentralized apps (dApps) and a massive, engaged community.
To date, cryptocurrencies have largely been the focus of news headlines. However, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what blockchain can offer, and the value it will create beyond the financial world.
[Blockchain] could be the foundation of a whole new era whereby our basic right to privacy is protected, because identity is the foundation of freedom and it needs to be managed responsibly.
—Don Tapscott, Executive Chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute
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