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.
Visualizing China’s Energy Transition in 5 Charts
This infographic takes a look at what China’s energy transition plans are to make its energy mix carbon neutral by 2060.
Visualizing China’s Energy Transition in 5 Charts
In September 2020, China’s President Xi Jinping announced the steps his nation would take to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 via videolink before the United Nations Assembly in New York.
This infographic takes a look at what this ambitious plan for China’s energy would look like and what efforts are underway towards this goal.
China’s Ambitious Plan
A carbon-neutral China requires changing the entire economy over the next 40 years, a change the IEA compares to the ambition of the reforms that industrialized the country’s economy in the first place.
China is the world’s largest consumer of electricity, well ahead of the second place consumer, the United States. Currently, 80% of China’s energy comes from fossil fuels, but this plan envisions only 14% coming from coal, oil, and natural gas in 2060.
|Energy Source||2025||2060||% Change|
Source: Tsinghua University Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy; U.S. EIA
According to the Carbon Brief, China’s 14th five-year plan appears to enshrine Xi’s goal. This plan outlines a general and non specific list of projects for a new energy system. It includes the construction of eight large-scale clean energy centers, coastal nuclear power, electricity transmission routes, power system flexibility, oil-and-gas transportation, and storage capacity.
Progress Towards Renewables?
While the goal seems far off in the future, China is on a trajectory towards reducing the carbon emissions of its electricity grid with declining coal usage, increased nuclear, and increased solar power capacity.
According to ChinaPower, coal fueled the rise of China with the country using 144 million tonnes of oil equivalent “Mtoe” in 1965, peaking at 1,969 Mtoe in 2013. However, its share as part of the country’s total energy mix has been declining since the 1990s from ~77% to just under ~60%.
Another trend in China’s energy transition will be the greater consumption of energy as electricity. As China urbanized, its cities expanded creating greater demand for electricity in homes, businesses, and everyday life. This trend is set to continue and approach 40% of total energy consumed by 2030 up from ~5% in 1990.
Under the new plan, by 2060, China is set to have 42% of its energy coming from solar and nuclear while in 2025 it is only expected to be 6%. China has been adding nuclear and solar capacity and expects to add the equivalent of 20 new reactors by 2025 and enough solar power for 33 million homes (110GW).
Changing the energy mix away from fossil fuels, while ushering in a new economic model is no small task.
Up to the Task?
China is the world’s factory and has relatively young industrial infrastructure with fleets of coal plants, steel mills, and cement factories with plenty of life left.
However, China also is the biggest investor in low-carbon energy sources, has access to massive technological talent, and holds a strong central government to guide the transition.
The direction China takes will have the greatest impact on the health of the planet and provide guidance for other countries looking to change their energy mixes, for better or for worse.
The world is watching…even if it’s by videolink.
Visualizing the Flow of U.S. Energy Consumption
From renewables to fossil fuels, we’ve visualized the diverse mix of energy sources that powered U.S. energy consumption in 2020.
Breaking Down America’s Energy Consumption in 2020
The United States relies on a complex mix of energy sources to fuel the country’s various end-sectors’ energy consumption.
While this energy mix is still dominated by fossil fuels, there are signs of a steady shift to renewable energy over the past decade.
This radial Sankey diagram using data from the EIA (Energy Information Administration) breaks down U.S. energy consumption in 2020, showing us how much each sector relies on various energy sources.
The Balance of Energy Production and Consumption
In 2019 and now in 2020, America’s domestic energy production has actually been greater than its consumption—a development that hasn’t taken place since 1957.
Last year’s numbers were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing a 5% drop in energy production and a 7% drop in consumption compared to 2019. Total energy production and consumption for 2020 came in at 95.75 and 92.94 quads respectively.
The energy amounts are equalized and measured in quadrillion BTUs (British thermal units), also known as quads. A quad is a huge amount of energy, equivalent to 183 million barrels of petroleum or 36 million tonnes of coal.
So how is America’s overall energy production and consumption split between energy sources?
U.S. Energy Production and Consumption Share by Source
|Energy Source||Percentage of U.S. Energy Production||Percentage of U.S. Energy Consumption|
America’s new margin of energy production over consumption has resulted in the country being a net total energy exporter again, providing some flexibility as the country continues its transition towards more sustainable and renewable energy sources.
Fossil Fuels Still Dominate U.S. Energy Consumption
While America’s mix of energy consumption is fairly diverse, 79% of domestic energy consumption still originates from fossil fuels. Petroleum powers over 90% of the transportation sector’s consumption, and natural gas and petroleum make up 74% of the industrial sector’s direct energy consumption.
There are signs of change as consumption of the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal, has declined more than 58% since its peak in 2005. Coinciding with this declining coal dependence, consumption from renewable energy has increased for six years straight, setting record highs again in 2020.
However, fossil fuels still make up 79% of U.S. energy consumption, with renewables and nuclear accounting for the remaining 21%. The table below looks at the share of specific renewable energy sources in 2020.
Distribution of Renewable Energy Sources
|Renewable Energy Source||2020 Energy Consumption in Quads||Share of 2020 Renewable Energy Consumption|
The Nuclear Necessity for a Zero-Emission Energy Transition
It’s not all up to renewable energy sources to clean up America’s energy mix, as nuclear power will play a vital role in reducing carbon emissions. Technically not a renewable energy source due to uranium’s finite nature, nuclear energy is still a zero-emission energy that has provided around 20% of total annual U.S. electricity since 1990.
Support for nuclear power has been growing slowly, and last year was the first which saw nuclear electricity generation overtake coal. However, this might not last as three nuclear plants including New York’s Indian Point nuclear plant are set to be decommissioned in 2021, with a fourth plant scheduled for retirement in 2022.
It’s worth noting that while other countries might have a higher share of nuclear energy in their total electricity generation, the U.S. still has the largest nuclear generation capacity worldwide and has generated more nuclear electricity than any other country in the world.
Converting Energy to Electricity
The energy produced by nuclear power plants doesn’t go directly to its end-use sector, rather, 100% of nuclear energy in the U.S. is converted to electricity which is sold to consumers. Along with nuclear, most energy sources aside from petroleum are primarily converted to electricity.
Unfortunately, electricity conversion is a fairly inefficient process, with around 65% of the energy lost in the conversion, transmission, and distribution of electricity.
This necessary but wasteful step allows for the storage of energy in electrical form, ensuring that it can be distributed properly. Working towards more efficient methods of energy to electricity conversion is an often forgotten aspect of reducing wasted energy.
Despite the dip in 2020, both energy production and consumption in the U.S. are forecasted to continue rising. As Biden aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 (from 2005 emission levels), U.S. energy consumption will inevitably continue to shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable and nuclear energy.
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