As bitcoin miners flock to the United States, politicians and environmentalists are warning about the environmental costs of the energy-intensive industry. In September, the White House released a report indicating that the United States hosts about a third of the world’s crypto-mining operations, and consumes up to 1.7% of the country’s electricity, which is equivalent to all residential lighting.
A new study by researchers at Cornell University argues that environmental concerns could be allayed by distributing bitcoin mining more efficiently in nations that prioritize renewable energy and lower operating costs, which could mitigate the damage.
As electric grids ramp up the use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind, and carbon capture technology is explored more closely, bitcoin mining could become more sustainable at an accelerating pace.
Doctor Fengqi Youa professor of energy systems engineering, led the research in hopes of driving better public policy associated with mining operations.
He said, “As more of these mining facilities come to the United States, and more of the public are considering investing in these sectors, what are the consequences for our climate and energy systems?”
Bitcoin uses a proof-of-work consensus mechanism: For transactions in a public ledger known as the blockchain to be recorded, different people — or miners — race to solve complex algorithms. The winner validates the block and is rewarded with bitcoin.
The process requires enormous computing power, with energy consumption equivalent to the requirements of countries such as Finland. It also results in massive carbon emissions – estimated at 90.76 million tons per year, comparable Greece’s carbon footprint.
In recent years, operations have moved to the United States where previous hubs such as China have banned bitcoin mining. They have become concentrated in Texas, with editor power grid, as well as in New York. The two countries, respectively, account for 14% and 19.9% of the Bitcoin computing power within the United States.
The study by Cornell found that the current distribution of mining operations in the United States is meaningless from a cost or emissions point of view.
I said, “Each state has its own electricity mix.” luck. Some countries rely more on hydropower, while others rely on nuclear power or natural gas.
When his team looked at the total costs of mining operations in different states, including capital expenditures and operating expenses, they found a strong correlation between clean energy use and lower project costs, which I said was surprising because renewables are often considered relatively expensive.
Going forward, he said, it will be critical to move mining operations to locations with better renewable capabilities, not only from an environmental point of view, but also from an economic point of view.
While the map above shows the best near-term states — with places like Washington and New York as the top candidates — they also analyze how the picture is changing as policy support for renewable energy increases. In this scenario, states including Vermont and Oregon become more suitable. I added that Texas is neither the best nor the worst option due to the relative carbon emissions associated with its electric grid.
Although the study does not endorse Bitcoin mining, it recognizes that it has the potential to continue — and processes can be improved to reduce carbon emissions and lower costs.
“Ideally,” I said, “if they were to only use renewables to mine bitcoin, we could say that they wouldn’t have any impact on the climate.” “But in practice, of course, we know that we are not yet at the stage of a 100% renewable energy grid.”
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