How Worried Should We Be About ‘Greening’ Bitcoin?

Although Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have experienced some volatile swings in value between 2017 and 2018, cryptocurrency is still being touted as many as the currency of the future. It’s popularity as a concept isn’t slowing down that easily. But with the enterprise of cryptocurrency mining has come an interesting problem: data consumption. Mining is essentially dependent on data centers and cloud computing, and this dependency and the resulting energy consumption has many in the tech world concerned.

Some are turning to ideals found in ‘Green Computing’ theory, such as having newer data centers that use the latest in space- and energy-efficient technology. This is possible (and indeed underway) for large corporations like Google and Microsoft, but smaller companies may not be able to afford the costs of a huge overhaul. According to Green Computing ideals, data centers older than seven years old are out of date. The reality is that the average life of a data center is closer to nine years, and many companies will milk those extra two or more years to cut down on equipment costs.

One ICO investor and cryptocurrency enthusiast, Walter Komarek, is spearheading a way to directly target Bitcoin and miners with Green Computing principals. Komarek is cofounder of a Bitcoin Hardfork (like an alternate version) called “bitcoinClean”. The Hardfork only accepts users who mine via clean energy sources, and encourages users to audit each others’ energy sources to keep the community purely full of users who mine via renewable energy. Komarek claims that 87% of the electrical energy used in mining is created from burning fossil fuels like coal. He further shares a story where a formerly out of commission coal-powered plant in East Australia was reopened to keep up with the demand for cheap electricity for cryptocurrency miners. It sounds depressing, but is it really that urgent?

Some critics are saying no. Forbes staff energy expert Christopher Helman cites a research conclusion from Credit Suisse analysts that reveals worries about Bitcoin mining overtaking world energy generation by 2020 are “overblown.” Where do some think these overblown estimates are coming from? One potential cause analysts are pointing to is a set of figures released by website Digiconomist that journalists and investors possibly sensationalized and ran with. Essentially, there is no reliable hard data about Bitcoin mining and energy usage.

Why else do experts think ‘greening’ Bitcoin shouldn’t be our biggest computing and energy concern? The projected numbers are typically based on assumptions of current-day technology. Experts point out that cryptocurrency, data centers, and other involved technology are constantly evolving for efficiency’s sake. Tech is unlikely to stay stagnant enough to cause an energy issue in the next few years. It’s not like it will hurt the environment to mine through services like bitcoinClean, but you can relax a little about scrambling to green your mining routine.

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