Although there are often stories in the news about how detrimental mining for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is to the environment, it appears that this may not really be the case. A report by Dr. Katrina Kelly-Pitou, who is a research associate in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, pointed out that the doom-and-gloom scenario portrayed by those who castigate cryptocurrency for its environmental wastefulness may be off the mark.
In an article for non-profit academic media outlet The Conversation, Kelly-Pitou heavily criticized the characterization of crypto mining’s energy consumption. She wrote that it is certainly not a fatal design flaw, adding that the general narrative surrounding cryptocurrency where it is portrayed as an environmental risk is an oversimplification resulting in factual inaccuracies among the mainstream readers.
Kelly-Pitou described the so-called “Bitcoin energy crisis” as some sort of a red herring, saying: “I am a researcher who studies clean energy technology, specifically the transition toward decarbonized energy systems…New technologies—such as data centers, computers and before them trains, planes and automobiles—are often energy-intensive. Over time, all of these have become more efficient, a natural progression of any technology: Saving energy equates to saving costs.”
Restricting the discourse to cryptocurrency mining’s energy consumption alone means that the larger truth about energy and environmental concerns are left out of the conversation. According to Kelly-Pitou, the use of renewable energy allows for increased power consumption for any purpose including cryptocurrency mining without having any negative environmental impact. Instead, the conversation should focus around where the electricity used to power cryptocurrency mining comes from and how it is generated.
In North America, cryptocurrency mining activities in Oregon is growing, thanks to the abundance of hydropower in the state. In China, the Sichuan mountain region is a favored destination among crypto mining operators, while in Europe, the geothermal energy-rich Iceland is a popular crypto mining destination. There’s also Norway, which has recently seen a number of crypto mining farms springing up in industrialized areas.
This, Kelly-Pitou said, proves that the conversation should be less about whether or not cryptocurrency mining uses a lot of electricity and more about the carbon footprint of the electricity in question.
She concluded, “Like many other aspects of the energy industry, Bitcoin is not necessarily a ‘bad guy.’ It’s simply a new, and vaguely understood, industry. The discussion about energy consumption and bitcoin is, I believe, unfair without discussing the energy intensity of new technologies overall, specifically in data centers.”
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