On Bitcoin's Energy Consumption: A Quantitative Approach to a Subjective Question
Is the Bitcoin network’s electricity consumption an acceptable use of energy? This question has been debated since the early days of the network. Yet despite the numerous published articles and analyses, the debate rages on, typically re-emerging during Bitcoin bull runs.
Bitcoin is a fundamentally novel technology that is not a precise substitute for any one legacy system. Bitcoin is not solely a settlement layer, not solely a store of value, and not solely a medium of exchange. There is no denying that the Bitcoin network consumes a substantial amount of energy, but this energy consumption is what makes it so robust and secure.
Given Bitcoin’s transparency, it is easy to estimate Bitcoin’s energy usage. This results in frequent criticism of Bitcoin, but these critiques are rarely levied against other traditional industries. Bitcoin is most often compared to the traditional banking system (for payments, savings, and settlement) and gold (as a non-sovereign store of value). But the energy usage of these industries is opaque as they do not publicly disclose their energy footprints. If we want to have an honest conversation about Bitcoin’s energy use, it seems appropriate to consider it in light of the industries it is most often compared to.
In this article, we begin by trying to understand the relevant facts around Bitcoin’s energy footprint, and then compare it to the gold and banking industries. Though these comparisons provide interesting context, they are inherently imperfect.
Although the magnitude of different industries’ energy usage can be estimated and compared, the question is still fundamentally subjective. Views on the Bitcoin network’s importance vary, but Bitcoin’s properties do not. Anyone can use Bitcoin. Anyone can hold bitcoins for themselves. And Bitcoin transactions can provide probabilistically final settlement in an hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.
These features can offer financial freedom to people around the world who may not have the luxury of a stable and accessible financial infrastructure. The network can benefit the energy sector by creating perfect use cases for intermittent and excess energy. And the network will only scale further if network adoption warrants it.
Throughout this piece, we reference several in-depth calculations. The methodology and calculations can be found here.