Image of the glider from the Game of Life by John Conway
Skip to content

Bitcoin Mining Rate and Waste

Recently, the Bitcoin mining rate surpassed 1 exahash per second, or 1 quintillion SHA-256 hashes per second.

Bitcoin mining graph showing gigahashes per second over time.

If we do some quick math, we can determine the following:

  • If SHA-1 collisions can be found in 2^65.3 hashes, that's one SHA-1 collision found every 45 seconds.
  • Every combination of bits can be flipped in an 84-bit keyspace every year.
  • If mining is done strictly with ASICs and each ASIC can produce 1 trillion hashes per second, that's 1,000,000 ASICs.
  • If each ASIC above consumes 650 Watts of power, that's 650 Megawatts of power consumed.
  • At 650,000 kWh per ASIC, that's 1.3 million pounds of CO2 released into the atmosphere every hour if using fossil fuels.
  • Current global rate is about 160 Bitcoins mined per hour.
  • At $0.15 USD per kWh, that's $609 spent on electricity per Bitcoin mined. Bitcoin is currently trading at $376/BTC.

That's "back of the envelope" calculations, with some big assumptions made about the mining operation (how it's powered, who is powering it, etc.).

Of course, not all mining is using fossil fuels, not all miners are using ASICs, not all ASICs can do 1 trillion hashes per second (some more, some less), not all ASICs are consuming that wattage per rate, and the cost of electricity was strictly a U.S. figure. Of course, if you're using a GPU, or worse, a CPU for your mining, then you expending more electricity per the rate than ASICs are. That may help balance out some of the miners who are using renewable energy, such as solar power for their mining. Many Chinese and Russian mining data centers certainly have less overhead costs on electricity. You get the point- we've made some big assumptions, to come to some very rough "ballpark" figures. I don't think we're too far off.

So, according to those numbers, unless using renewable energy, cheaper electricity, or Bitcoin trading goes north of $610 USB/BTC mining for Bitcoin is a net loss. This comes at the expense of 1.3 million pounds of CO2 released into the atmosphere every hour. I would argue that Bitcoin is the worst idea to come out of Computer Science in the history of mankind.

{ 9 } Comments

  1. chris | February 4, 2016 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Even using renewable power, you're still displacing other, better uses of that electricity.

    The rule of thumb is that the higher the USD value of a coin, the more power the network will consume, despite still not delivering much value as a payment network beyond ransomware, darknet markets, etc.

  2. Objectivist | February 5, 2016 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    This article and Chris' response are both wrongheaded.

    Effectively unlimited amounts of energy are available. Solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear can be built out in vast quantities with essentially no downside. (The nuclear safety/waste "problem" is a red herring with next-gen nuclear plants.)

    Bitcoin miners also verify transactions, so they perform useful work in addition to creating new bitcoins. Is that a less valuable service than the energy spent watching cat videos, or for that matter porn? I can pretty well assure you that those things alone consume far more energy than bitcoin mining. Bitcoin in general has value as a decentralized, compact and cheaply transmitted value store. It also makes micropayments practical. The price of bitcoin reflects its utility in the real world.

    The fact is that if you pay for the power you consume, and there is sufficient power to go around, that should be the end of it. That you disapprove of a specific use case is irrelevant.

  3. Aaron Toponce | February 5, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, not everyone is using renewable energy. In fact, very little in the mining community is. Most miners are large-scale datacenters, very actively chewing through fossil fuels.

  4. Simcitywok | February 5, 2016 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Touché, @objectivist.
    "backed by math" is the Bitcoin mantra up until math shows these inconvenient truths.

    Care to provide some mathematical reasoning for your *opinion*? Qualitative opining belongs in /r/Bitcoin methinks

  5. ICBINbutter | February 5, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    @objectivist, We're talking about **CO2 emissions**, mate!

  6. Anonyous | February 6, 2016 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    Obviously, if the production cost is higher than the revenue, there's likely some assumption being made that is wrong.

    Let's do this using real numbers from real hardware.

    An AntMiner S7 from BitMain is not the latest 16nm technology that is a top performer in efficiency, but it's also not that old where it would be considered obsolete yet. So it might be fair to calculate electricity usage using this as typical hardware.

    If the current 1 Eh/s (or 1,000,000 Th/s) were to be done using these AntMiner S7s, there would need to be 211,864 of them. Each consumes 1,300W, So that's 275,423,200W, or 275Megawatts. That's less than half the number calculated above.

    Incidentally, BitFury says they'll offer a 16,000 Th/s container mining farm that uses their efficient 16nm technology and consumes 2MW. If all mining were to be done with these, that's 125,00 Megawatts. What is likely is some of this 16nm tech will be used to replace the hashing of existing less-efficient equipment.

    BitFury mines today for their own benefit using this 16nm hardware too. They aren't using electricity from fossil fuels.

  7. Objectivist | February 9, 2016 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    @Simcitywok

    "Care to provide some mathematical reasoning for your *opinion*?"

    Anon did a reasonable analysis of the likely current power usage, although it may be a bit on the low side since some older hardware may still be in use where power is cheap enough for it to be profitable. Let’s inflate his number by ~20% to be conservative: 350 Megawatts. That works out to 3 TWH per year if run 24/365. At night (12 hours per day? 16?) this is using purely excess power produced as part of base production.

    That is about 0.000015 of worldwide electric production (https://yearbook.enerdata.net/world-electricity-production-map-graph-and-data.html). This fraction is unlikely to increase over time. What percentage of electric consumption goes to purely entertainment purposes, do you suppose? I suggest it is vastly larger than the above, and will increase over time.

    In short, there is no issue with Bitcoin electricity use. If you want to do something productive, advocate next-gen nuclear power and other clean sources to replace coal, oil, and eventually natural gas. There is no need to restrict electricity use, only to produce it using clean technologies.

  8. Svenn | March 1, 2016 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I wholehearted agree, bitcoin mining is a huge drain of resources with no gain. Its harming nature for no valid reason, although there are more processes (governm, company's,...) doing the same. We should be searching for more efficiency not less.

  9. Dozwiedzenia | May 13, 2018 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    There was a time where mining bitcoins was a good choice. So probably having a good hardware and a good source of electricity (cheap I mean) it would be still possible to get some good source of coins in averade period of time.
    The problem is with the banks, that are reluctant to accepting bitcoins

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.