BERLIN: Global mining of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin consumes more electricity than many populous countries such as Pakistan, according to a new UN study.
Forecasts from July estimate that more than 135 terawatt hours (TWh) will be needed for bitcoin mining worldwide in 2023, said a group of researchers led by Kaveh Madani from the Institute for Water, Environment and Health at the United Nations University in Hamilton, Canada.
According to the team’s findings published in the journal Earth’s Future, most of the electricity used for the mining of the cryptocurrency comes from fossil fuels, meaning Bitcoin has an extreme impact on the environment and climate.
The creation of bitcoins, a digital currency often referred to as digital gold, is based on blockchain technology in which transactions are stored as cryptographically linked data blocks.
Miners verify each transaction and generate a data block that is added to this blockchain, which consumes enormous amounts of electricity due to the high levels of computation involved.
The scientists, who looked at data from the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, singled out China, the US, Kazakhstan, Russia, Canada, Malaysia, Germany, Ireland, Iran, Thailand, Sweden, Norway, Singapore, and the UK as “top contributors to the environmental footprints of the global Bitcoin mining network.”
During the two-year period between 2020 and 2021, Bitcoin mining consumed 173 TWh worldwide, according to the study – 60% more than in the period from 2018 to 2019.
Of the electricity used during the 2020-2021 period, 67% came from fossil fuel sources, the researchers found.
Hydropower, the most important renewable energy source of the bitcoin mining network, covered about 16% of the electricity demand.
The water footprint of global Bitcoin mining activities is also considerable, the scientists said, amounting to about 1.65 cubic kilometres for the 2020-2021 period, “more than the domestic water use of 300 million people in rural Sub-Saharan Africa.”
During that same period, Bitcoin mining was responsible for around 86 million tonnes of CO2 emitted worldwide, according to the study. – dpa