Earlier this week, a study published by Dutch researcher Alex de Vries concluded that Bitcoin mining uses almost as much electricity as the entire Republic of Ireland, but Standford lecturer Johnathan Koomey says his figures are wrong, reports NBC news.
The recent claims that cryptocurrency is draining nation’s power supplies have been compared to concerns in the 1990s when some experts predicted that half of the US electrical grid would be needed to power the then-burgeoning internet, which was later proved to be highly exaggerated.
Koomey’s Berkley Lab proved these calculations wrong at the time, and then again in another study in August 2011 concluding that the data centers used less than 2 percent of the nation’s electricity.
Dutch researcher, Alex de Vries who made the new claims last week, seems to have ignited yet another argument over exactly how much power is being used in excess as a result of the adoption of new technologies.
Koomey asserts, “For two decades, people have been eager to overestimate electricity use by computing…My concern is that we simply don’t have adequate data to come to the strong conclusions that he’s coming to.”
The rise in popularity of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has sparked numerous concerns regarding the energy required by thousands of computing systems that power virtual currencies, and De Vries is certainly not the first to comment on it.
De Vries estimates that the Bitcoin network consumes “at least 2.55 gigawatts of electricity currently, and potentially 7.67 gigawatts in the future.” He also writes that figures will gravitate towards a figure of 8.2 gigawatts by as early as the end of 2018, as energy supplies are further called on to mine cryptocurrencies.
It is these figures that De Vries and other experts in the field contest, suggesting the numbers were simply “picked out of the air.” Koomey argues:
“There may be some basis for them, but it’s a very unreliable way to do these kinds of calculations, and nobody who does this for a living would do it like that. It’s odd that someone would.”
Christian Catalini, an assistant professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, who researches cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, pointed out much of the problem with these kinds of assertions is that data is not actually taken from miners. The very nature of the process often demands that those mining value their privacy, making energy consumption data hard obtain, and therefore to calculate, plus the equipment miners use is varied:
“The main challenge is that this gear is scattered across the globe and faces different prices. This debate keeps popping up, but it would be great if someone did some data sharing with the miners and got some good estimates.”
Bitcoin mining, whether individually or through a mining pool. is often set up in order to keep costs to a minimum, and frequently mining is conducted in such places as caves, energy-rich areas or low-cost countries, in order to reduce costs and maximize user profit. These variables make it hard to ascertain how much global energy is actually being used.
De Vries has responded to counterclaims to those made in the PwC report by his critics, suggesting that, “Right now, the information available is pretty poor quality overall, so I’m hoping that people will use this paper as a foundation for more research.”
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