In a society concerned with energy conservation and the human toll on our environment, the energy consumption required to successfully mine bitcoin is a rising concern. On May 16, economist Alex de Vries published a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Joule outlining how much electricity the process of mining bitcoin currently requires, and how much it may require in the future, given existing trends.
According to Vries' estimates, the bitcoin network currently consumes 2.55 gigawatts (Gw) of energy, and that number could potentially reach 7.67 Gw by the end of 2018. Such an increase would make the energy consumption used by the bitcoin network on par with that of a small country; Ireland, for example, uses 3.1 Gw and Austria uses 8.2 Gw.
These massive demands for electricity come from the power required to solve the complex mathematical equations required to mine bitcoin. According to Vries, the bitcoin network processes 200,000 transactions a day. He writes, "This means that the average electricity consumed per transaction equals at least 300 kWh [kilowatt hours], and could exceed 900 kWh per transaction by the end of 2018."
Vries admits that "trying to measure the electricity consumed by the bitcoin mining machines producing all those hash calculations remains a challenge to date." By using the efficiency data on different mining hardware, and the total computational power of the network, Vries was able to determine the lower bound for bitcoin's electricity consumption to be 2.55 Gw.
Although the power requirements to mine bitcoin seem to only be growing, Vries does point out that projects such as the Lighting Network, which is intended to increase the throughput of the bitcoin network in an attempt to quell its thirst for electricity, do seem promising. But for now, "Bitcoin has a big problem, and it is growing fast."