Despite the fact that the bitcoin virtual currency, its functioning is a very real sector of the economy that requires real resources. In particular, the maintenance of its existence takes a lot of electricity. An international team of researchers analyzed data from hardware and IP addresses of bitcoin miners, estimated energy consumption associated with the cryptocurrency, and calculated carbon footprint. A study published in the journal Joule.

According to estimates by researchers, the maintenance of the blockchain the bitcoin network spent annually 45.8 Tera of electricity. In terms of carbon footprint it turns out that in the development of this amount of energy were released into the atmosphere from 22 to 22.9 megatons of carbon dioxide. Comparable amounts of CO2 produce some cities, such as Hamburg and Las Vegas or even a small country like Sri Lanka or Jordan.

According to these calculations, the energy consumption of bitcoin has increased significantly since its announcement. This is due to the increase of capacities needed for mining cryptocurrency. The first generation of miners used ordinary personal computers with a capacity of 0.01 gigaherz per second, then the miners moved on to graphical processing units (GPU) with a power of 0.2–2 GH/s. From 2013 the miners in the course of specialized systems based on integrated circuits (ASIC) with a capacity of up to 44,000 GH/s.

Investigation of IP addresses revealed that the miners are unevenly distributed geographically. 67% of mining capacity is located in Asian countries, 17% European and 15% is in North America. Based on the analysis of the capacity of the hardware involved in mining bitcoins, scientists have calculated the power consumption of the virtual currency and, given the geographical distribution of miners, calculated the carbon footprint of bitcoin.

In their work the authors tried to draw attention to non-obvious problem on blockchain technology. A high degree of protection operation requires high production capacities and, consequently, a large amount of electricity. Researchers estimate if you take into account all existing cryptocurrencies, their total carbon footprint will be twice that calculated for the bitcoin.

The spread of technology beyond the cryptocurrency increases power consumption, which is growing and carbon footprint. The carbon dioxide emissions accompanying the electricity production in turn leads to the enhanced greenhouse effect on the planet.

“Of course, there are more important factors that contribute to climate change. However, the carbon footprint of the cryptocurrency mining is quite large, to discuss the possibility of its regulation, especially in those regions where electricity generation is particularly carbon-intensive. One of the ways to improve the environmental balance, the Association of large mining farms and transferring them to renewable energy sources”, — cite the words of the lead author of the study, an employee of the technical University of Munich and MIT Christian Stolle in the official press release.

According to a recent report CoinShares, 77,6% of the electricity used by the entire infrastructure of bitcoin mining in 2018 derived from renewable energy sources. Mining industry seeks in the near future switch fully to green energy.

The largest mining farms located in regions where the majority of electricity generated from renewable sources. The largest Asian mining center is located in Sichuan, where more than 30% of energy to produce the windmills and solar power. Russian miners are concentrated in the Angara region, where the lowest electricity rates. Low price for electricity due to the proximity to the Irkutsk hydroelectric station, which also operates without greenhouse gas emissions.

What’s greener: digital or physical media?

Not only the distribution of blockchain technology leads to greenhouse emissions. A recent study by researchers from the universities of Oslo and Glasgow showed that the development of music streaming services also contributes to greenhouse emissions.

Methodically study the carbon footprint of streaming services and bitcoin alike. The authors used data from the American Association of the Phonographic industry for 2015 and 2016, estimated the volume of Internet traffic used when listening and download music from services. Knowing the cost of electricity it takes to download 1 GB of data, researchers calculated energy consumption.

The footprint adjusted for the geography of the traffic showed that music streaming services lead to the emission of greenhouse gases 10 more than the entire bichenova industry. In 2016 the infrastructure of streaming audioservices only in the United States was responsible for emissions of CO2 in the amount of from 200 to 350 megatons. The electricity that you spend custom gadgets when listening to music from services, the researchers did not take into account.

The scientists also compared the carbon footprint of streaming services and production music on physical media. Even at the peak of production of vinyl records the whole industry production and sales led to twice as less CO2 emissions — no more than 140 megatons per year. However, with physical media associated another problem is about 58 megatons of plastic waste annually.

Research the carbon footprint of video games in the UK also showed that physical media contribute to lower CO2 equivalent emissions than digital services. Greener cloud services physical media be if you buy them on the secondary market. The results of this study are valid only for the UK video games console PlayStation. The authors plan to expand the geographical scope of his research to compare the carbon footprint of analog media and digital services was more correct.

Streaming services are trying to reduce your carbon footprint and transform their data centers to renewable energy. So, the Spotify service in the sustainable development report 2017 said that by the end of 2018 will transfer most of the backend operations on the platform Google Cloud Platform (GCP). The transition to the Google platform has allowed us to reduce the carbon footprint of 1.5 megatons per year. Until the end of 2019 should be completed to complete the transition, and will become carbon neutral. Apple in 2018, announced a complete transition of all company’s premises in 43 countries on renewable sources of energy.

The research objective of this review was not to encourage environmentally responsible users to abandon the use of digital services and virtual currencies. The authors wanted to draw attention to melocheville relations between digital economy, energy and greenhouse gas emissions, and promote sustainable energy consumption. If these data had someone of the readers to think about how their everyday habits and lifestyles affect nature, they can recommend the development of an ecologist from Moscow state University Andrey Stetsenko: together with colleagues he created a CO2 calculator, which you can use to find out your carbon footprint.

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