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Question: What are your thoughts on bitcoin and energy consumption?
Don't care - 25 (26.9%)
Bitcoin is energy intensive? - 8 (8.6%)
Care, mine anyway - 26 (28%)
Care, dont mine, support bitcoin - 3 (3.2%)
Care, don't support bitcoin - 1 (1.1%)
Bitcoin mining is not energy intensive compared to alternatives - 19 (20.4%)
I'd like to see the numbers first - 11 (11.8%)
Total Voters: 93

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Author Topic: concern for bitcoin and the environment  (Read 7146 times)
brybot
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April 25, 2011, 02:11:45 AM
 #1

So I am pretty new to bitcoin, but I am concerned with energy usage of the system.

I estimate that the bitcoin system is running on well over 400 kW in pure computation power. This figure only includes GPU/CPU power and not any other component. I saw a figure that shows that Slush's pool accounts for about 1/4 of the total blocks found and has about 208 Ghash/s capacity. If we assume that the entire network is using highly efficient GPUs we could expect around 2 Mhash/J, but I feel that this is generous. total power=(slush capacity)/[(slush fraction of total)*efficiency] = 208 Ghash/s / (0.25 * 2 Mhash/J) = 416 kW.

Thats quite a bit of power. The other concern is we can throw more and more power into solving the blocks, but we have fixed the rate at which blocks will be found to be constant. So we add more power, then difficulty increases. Is there any way that we can make this a more environmentally friendly idea?

My plan is to mine over winter and use the heat generated to heat my apartment. I was also thinking about adding in some solar panels. Doing those things would make me feel better about the mining, but I am still not 100% comfortable with the idea of being a part of the system which is energy intensive as a whole. I understand that this may not be a concern for many people, but I thought I would throw it out there and see what people are thinking. Thanks for your input.
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gusti
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April 25, 2011, 02:23:58 AM
 #2

Bitcon is much greener than fiat.
Think about all that paper, ink, trucks, vaults, armored men, banks.
So, I don´t care about a few kw thrown to the network, overall result is greener.

If you don't own the private keys, you don't own the coins.
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April 25, 2011, 02:27:02 AM
 #3

If you feel bad about playing a video game on a 3rd generation console or high end graphics card, then I guess you can feel guilty about mining Bitcoins. But keep 2 points in mind:

1) To run a miner is not a requirement to use Bitcoins. If the energy use deters you, you can simply stay clear of the mining.
2) The power used to mine Bitcoins is far less than let's say, mine gold, smelt it and secure it in bunkers or print paper money.

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Stephen Gornick
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April 25, 2011, 02:34:23 AM
 #4

From the Bitcoin Myths page:

Quote
Myth: Bitcoin mining is a waste of energy and harmful for ecology

No more so than the the wastefulness of mining gold out of the ground, melting it down and shaping it into bars, and then putting it back underground again. Not to mention the building of big fancy buildings, the waste of energy printing and minting all the various fiat currencies, the transportation thereof in armored cars by no less than two security guards for each who could probably be doing something more productive, etc.
As far as mediums of exchange go, bitcoin is actually quite economical of resources, compared to others.
 http://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Myths#Bitcoin_mining_is_a_waste_of_energy_and_harmful_for_ecology

Would you be able to suggest an alternative computational task such that cheating would have no bearing on performance?  Without that, mining activity would neglect the tasks that don't provide the highest return.

[edited]

brybot
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April 25, 2011, 02:42:16 AM
 #5

@Gusti: I don't disagree that the "flat" economy is energy intensive. However, I don't think we can easily compare them yet. Bitcoin is hardly a smudge compared to the US economy. Will it scale proportionally? And if so, is it still greener?

@goatpig: Not that its really that relevant (it has nothing to do with energy for me), but I own neither a video game console or a high end graphics card. I can steer clear of the mining, but I would still be supporting an energy intensive system. Sure mining for gold is energy intensive too, but I still have to wonder the same thing I asked Gusti above.

@sgornick Looks like you posted while I was typing this. I see the argument, but as an engineer, I like to see numbers and evidence. It very well could be that this system is much more efficient. If it is, awesome! I just want to see numbers and some scaling bounds.


However, something that was not addressed is the fact that we can throw as much energy at the block solving problem as we want and still get the same output. Yet, as people get interested in mining, the energy used will invariably increase. What will prevent this from skyrocketing and people wasting lots of energy? My only thought on the bound would be that the difficulty would increase to the point that bitcoins are equal to the cost of energy required to produce them.

koin
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April 25, 2011, 03:00:38 AM
 #6

think of it this way, this relatively trivial amount of energy is being consumed by a massive number of gpgpu equipment (equivalent to about about 1400 ati 5970s maybe).

bitcoin is subsidizing improvements to gpgpus by increasing sales to the manufacturers and is furthering the science of distributed computing.  these will help make gpgpus more affordable for science.

it is all being paid for with non-government spending (well, most of it anyway)
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April 25, 2011, 03:16:31 AM
 #7

@Gusti: I don't disagree that the "flat" economy is energy intensive. However, I don't think we can easily compare them yet. Bitcoin is hardly a smudge compared to the US economy. Will it scale proportionally? And if so, is it still greener?

@goatpig: Not that its really that relevant (it has nothing to do with energy for me), but I own neither a video game console or a high end graphics card. I can steer clear of the mining, but I would still be supporting an energy intensive system. Sure mining for gold is energy intensive too, but I still have to wonder the same thing I asked Gusti above.

@sgornick Looks like you posted while I was typing this. I see the argument, but as an engineer, I like to see numbers and evidence. It very well could be that this system is much more efficient. If it is, awesome! I just want to see numbers and some scaling bounds.


However, something that was not addressed is the fact that we can throw as much energy at the block solving problem as we want and still get the same output. Yet, as people get interested in mining, the energy used will invariably increase. What will prevent this from skyrocketing and people wasting lots of energy? My only thought on the bound would be that the difficulty would increase to the point that bitcoins are equal to the cost of energy required to produce them.



Well, as you say, Bitcoins can't logically out cost the energy the network needs to validate the transaction. As such, you have an upper limit of sort, which doesn't exist on fiat money. The other thing you need to consider is that while Bitcoin adopters do expect the currency to valuate alot, you have to keep in mind that this valuation means there is less wealth circulating in the fiat system as a consequence. So even if Bitcoin is a concurrent system to fiat currencies, it isn't concurrent on the energy level.

As for scaling, I can only provide an opinion, I have no figures to contribute, but I expect it to be widely less energy intensive than the systems it is aiming to replace. Also, considering the amount of electronics drawing power for no other purpose that leisure, I think the return from the energy spent is worthwhile on its own.

I will agree with you that Bitcoin mining is highly compatible with home electric production solutions.

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rezin777
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April 25, 2011, 03:30:45 AM
 #8

In my personal opinion, the potential benefits that bitcoin can provide society far outweigh any potential concern over the amount of energy required to secure the network.

Also, in time, only the most efficient miners will be able to continue mining at a profit.

Hell, it may cause more people to become conscious of energy use in other aspect of their life. I know that once I started mining, energy use became a primary concern of mine.
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April 25, 2011, 08:59:05 AM
 #9


I'm not sure you are really an engineer are you? 400kWatt is a pittance in the big scheme of things.

It should be remembered that the current primary system USD has a massive war machine in place enforcing the monetary order of dollar hegemoney ... are you railing similarly against the green issues raised by the US military?

It's all about perspective, bitcoin is far superior at the task that it id doing, in terms of energy expended, than the current dysfunctional system, but if you don't think so, come up with some real numbers for the current system and live by your calcs.

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April 25, 2011, 09:18:32 AM
 #10

My only thought on the bound would be that the difficulty would increase to the point that bitcoins are equal to the cost of energy required to produce them.

This... difficulty will tend towards whatever provides a small, but sustainable amount of profit for miners.

As we slide down the banister of life, this is just another splinter in our ass.
Pieter Wuille
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April 25, 2011, 09:41:25 AM
 #11

The amount of energy spent per day in an economically viable way (that is, excluding people who willingly burn more energy than what it gains them), is limited to block_subsidy*block_per_day*USD_per_BTC/USD_per_kWh.

Currently, this means around 50 * 144 * 1.7 / 0.11 kWh per day, or 111MWh/day, or 4MW power consumption. That is (currently) less than an accelerating eurostar train.

Note that assuming the block subsidy (including fees) and power price remain equal, this only depends on the bitcoin exchange rate, which may go up to 70 USD/BTC before it is economically viable to burn the equivalent of an average Boeing 747.

Also note that this is an upper limit - as long as miners want some profit, the total power consumption needs to remain below this number.

aka sipa, core dev team

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stakhanov
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April 25, 2011, 10:10:07 AM
 #12

I don't think it's a concern for now. Bitcoin is already a great improvement over the previous way of doing things.

If it becomes an overwhelming success and power consumption really turns out to be a problem, someone will find a solution.
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April 25, 2011, 11:01:12 AM
 #13

My plan is to mine over winter and use the heat generated to heat my apartment.
Thus is a good idea.  You may get some inspiration from my miner.
Quote
I was also thinking about adding in some solar panels.
I think ArtForz should follow up this idea.  His ASIC does 200 Mhash/s at only 8 watts, and can probably be variably clocked to follow the MPP of a small 10W solar panel.  It would take considerable time for an investment in his miner to pay for itself, if ever, but what the heck.  I run all my gadgets on solar power myself (anything which can be charged via USB), just for the fun of it.  I get about 1 kWh per year from my smallish flexible panel, and it will of course never pay back the cost of the equipment.  Sunlight is scarce and power is cheap where I live.

Sjå http://bitmynt.no for veksling av bitcoin mot norske kroner.  Trygt, billig, raskt og enkelt sidan 2010.
I buy with EUR and other currencies at a fair market price when you want to sell.  See http://bitmynt.no/eurprice.pl
I support the roadmap.  If a majority of miners ever try to forcefully take control of Bitcoin through a hard fork without 100% consensus, I will immediately split out and dump all my forkcoins, and buy more real Bitcoin.
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April 25, 2011, 05:25:03 PM
 #14

The energy cost of a coin mined today I would estimate at arround 30% of it's current worth. That is much more than the percentage needed for printing a $10 bill. I think it es even more than what it takes to mine gold, I took a glance at these numbers some time ago.
But nobody figured out a better and still safe way to design a cryptocurrency yet. The difficulty and cost to mine is what makes bitcoins safe.

If you take all the overhead for reprinting, safekeeping, transportation, fake money and so on into account - my feeling is bitcoins will win.


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unclescrooge
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April 25, 2011, 05:41:04 PM
 #15

Excuse me, but how exactly energy consumption is automatically bad for the environment?

unclescrooge
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April 25, 2011, 05:42:17 PM
 #16

Life itself is energy consuming...

BioMike
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April 25, 2011, 06:42:31 PM
 #17

It all causes to increase entropy... we're doomed!
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April 25, 2011, 07:27:27 PM
 #18

So I am pretty new to bitcoin, but I am concerned with energy usage of the system.

I estimate that the bitcoin system is running on well over 400 kW in pure computation power.
Thats quite a bit of power.

Not if you consider the amount of energy it takes to run other monetary systems.  Just because your cash doesn't require energy to use, doesn't mean that it didn't take energy to create.  It took quite a bit, and considering the network of banks and institutions that exist to support the electronic flow of those same notes, the energy costs of the US FRN are astronomical compared to Bitcoin.

In some ways it's comparable to the energy required to dry your hands in a public bathroom.  Which takes more energy, the paper towel or the hot air blowdryer?  The answer is counter-intuitive, because we see the energy that the dryer uses; but we tend to overlook the energy required to 1) grow the trees, 2) harvest the trees, 3) produce the paper, 4) ship the rolls of paper towels, 5) and repeatedly replace the rolls as they empty.

The hot air blowdryer is orders of magnitude more energy efficient than a paper towel dispensory, as long as the dryer itself is reliable.
Quote

My plan is to mine over winter and use the heat generated to heat my apartment.


Good plan
Quote
I was also thinking about adding in some solar panels.

Probably not so good of a plan; unless you live in a desert or otherwise want the solar panels for some other reason.  I've looked into this for my own home, and the panels never make their own cost of production back within their life expectancy.  And only make sense in remote conditions. or if you expect that the power grid will fail sometime within your lifetime.
Quote

Doing those things would make me feel better about the mining, but I am still not 100% comfortable with the idea of being a part of the system which is energy intensive as a whole. I understand that this may not be a concern for many people, but I thought I would throw it out there and see what people are thinking. Thanks for your input.


Please add, "Bitcoin mining is not energy intensive compared to alternatives" to your poll, please.

"The powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent meetings and conferences. The apex of the systems was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, a private bank owned and controlled by the world's central banks which were themselves private corporations. Each central bank...sought to dominate its government by its ability to control Treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economic activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world."

- Carroll Quigley, CFR member, mentor to Bill Clinton, from 'Tragedy And Hope'
AllYourBase
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April 25, 2011, 07:34:43 PM
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I think we should club all baby seals so they stop consuming energy and destroying the environment.
brybot
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April 25, 2011, 08:03:02 PM
 #20

bitcoin is subsidizing improvements to gpgpus by increasing sales to the manufacturers and is furthering the science of distributed computing.  these will help make gpgpus more affordable for science.

I like that point.

I'm not sure you are really an engineer are you? 400kWatt is a pittance in the big scheme of things.

I hope this is just a case of sarcasm not being conveyed through the internet and not a rude comment. Sure, its nothing compared to global energy consumption, but everything needs to be scrutinized no matter the size. Thats what any real engineer will tell you.

Currently, this means around 50 * 144 * 1.7 / 0.11 kWh per day, or 111MWh/day, or 4MW power consumption. That is (currently) less than an accelerating eurostar train.

Also note that this is an upper limit - as long as miners want some profit, the total power consumption needs to remain below this number.

Good calculation. We are all hoping/expecting the value of bitcoins to increase, so that cap will increase proportionally. I need to learn more about the "fee" system so that I can do some calculations for when fee mining begins to dominate regular mining. This is difficult to speculate because computation and energy technologies will not be the same that far in the future.

I don't think it's a concern for now. Bitcoin is already a great improvement over the previous way of doing things.

If it becomes an overwhelming success and power consumption really turns out to be a problem, someone will find a solution.
That seems to be the mindset of most engineers or people in general. In my opinion, we should predict problems and solve them before their scale makes solutions expensive and complex.


My plan is to mine over winter and use the heat generated to heat my apartment.
Thus is a good idea.  You may get some inspiration from my miner.
Quote
I was also thinking about adding in some solar panels.
I think ArtForz should follow up this idea.  His ASIC does 200 Mhash/s at only 8 watts, and can probably be variably clocked to follow the MPP of a small 10W solar panel.  It would take considerable time for an investment in his miner to pay for itself, if ever, but what the heck.  I run all my gadgets on solar power myself (anything which can be charged via USB), just for the fun of it.  I get about 1 kWh per year from my smallish flexible panel, and it will of course never pay back the cost of the equipment.  Sunlight is scarce and power is cheap where I live.

I really like that miner setup! =). I'd like to learn more about the ArtForz ASIC. Is it just on paper right now or is he planning a production run?


If you take all the overhead for reprinting, safekeeping, transportation, fake money and so on into account - my feeling is bitcoins will win.

I suppose that is becoming the common theme in this thread. However, I just want some numbers to back up the feeling. I don't know that it is better or worse. I just want to see and know.

Excuse me, but how exactly energy consumption is automatically bad for the environment?

Climate change and pollution come to mind. Solar is pretty clean, especially heat capture. However, burning fossil fuels does not only release lots of pollution, but it increases greenhouse gases. Not sure how big of an argument this may become. I know agriculture and farming is a HUGE contributor to greenhouse gases. Its a population issue. We all want to use energy and we are generally using stored energy rather than renewable energy. Fossil fuels are an efficient storage of millions of years of sun energy. It will run out however, but in the mean time we are releasing millions of years of carbon storage in a relatively short time span. We will face water shortages, climate shifts, increased food prices, etc. I am not sure where you live, but in my country fossil fuels dominate electricity production.
So I am pretty new to bitcoin, but I am concerned with energy usage of the system.

I estimate that the bitcoin system is running on well over 400 kW in pure computation power.
Thats quite a bit of power.

Not if you consider the amount of energy it takes to run other monetary systems.  Just because your cash doesn't require energy to use, doesn't mean that it didn't take energy to create.  It took quite a bit, and considering the network of banks and institutions that exist to support the electronic flow of those same notes, the energy costs of the US FRN are astronomical compared to Bitcoin.

In some ways it's comparable to the energy required to dry your hands in a public bathroom.  Which takes more energy, the paper towel or the hot air blowdryer?  The answer is counter-intuitive, because we see the energy that the dryer uses; but we tend to overlook the energy required to 1) grow the trees, 2) harvest the trees, 3) produce the paper, 4) ship the rolls of paper towels, 5) and repeatedly replace the rolls as they empty.

The hot air blowdryer is orders of magnitude more energy efficient than a paper towel dispensory, as long as the dryer itself is reliable.
Quote

My plan is to mine over winter and use the heat generated to heat my apartment.


Good plan
Quote
I was also thinking about adding in some solar panels.

Probably not so good of a plan; unless you live in a desert or otherwise want the solar panels for some other reason.  I've looked into this for my own home, and the panels never make their own cost of production back within their life expectancy.  And only make sense in remote conditions. or if you expect that the power grid will fail sometime within your lifetime.
Quote

Doing those things would make me feel better about the mining, but I am still not 100% comfortable with the idea of being a part of the system which is energy intensive as a whole. I understand that this may not be a concern for many people, but I thought I would throw it out there and see what people are thinking. Thanks for your input.


Please add, "Bitcoin mining is not energy intensive compared to alternatives" to your poll, please.

Your analogy is great. There is even more to consider however. How is the electricity being produced? Does it have emissions? Do they offset cutting down farmed trees for paper? There is a lot to consider for sure.

Solar does pretty well where I am from. In fact, I recently saw reports that solar is just about on the edge with being competitive with coal. Thats a pretty huge development. The only problem is that I am going to be moving (just graduated). I'll be going to grad school at CMU and I am not sure how much sun I'll be seeing in Pittsburgh. For me, I am concerned more with unseen environmental costs that are not factored into the current price of energy. If I use solar panels, I would hope to combat that.

I'll add your poll option.

I think we should club all baby seals so they stop consuming energy and destroying the environment.
Add human babies to your list. =P. Otherwise, very constructive comment there.
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