Nearly 80% of Bitcoin Mining Done With Renewable Energy: CoinShares Report

Colin Muller
  • An estimated 77.6% of global bitcoin mining comes from renewable energy
  • Bitcoin mining in China is on the wane, although still makes up slight majority

The vast majority of bitcoin mining is probably conducted using renewable energy sources, CoinShares have calculated in a scathing rebuke to critics who have alleged that bitcoin mining operations are environmentally wasteful.

CoinShares is a UK-based cryptoasset research and investment firm, who have offered cryptoasset exchange traded products since 2015 on the Stockholm NASDAQ/OMX exchange.

The report used a combination of publically available numerical data, media reports, “insight from industry insiders” and some best-guess assumptions to propose that 77.6% of worldwide bitcoin mining is conducted from renewable energy sources.

CoinShares singled out in particular a recent Nature article, which garnered widespread attention, even in traditional media, for proposing that bitcoin mining alone could propel the world past the anti-pollution limits set down during the 2015 Paris Agreement - CoinShares called the article “groundless.”

Nature Got It Wrong

The rebuked article, authored by Camilo Mora of University of Hawaii’s Department of Geography and Environment, calculated an approximate carbon emission footprint - to greatly oversimplify - by multiplying bitcoin’s 2017 estimated energy consumption based on standard mining equipment efficiency, and the average CO2 emission rates associated with power production of countries from which mined blocks were thought to have been mined.

It was from this methodology that Mora et al issued their stark warning, but CoinShares introduced a subtle but apparently crucial element of complexity into that basically good analysis by looking at the sub-country situation of power production, down into regional economic and political considerations.

“By multiplying the electricity consumption of every block in 2017 by the electricity emissions in the country where the proof-of-work was likely to be resolved, we were able to estimate the total CO2e emissions for computing every block in 2017.” - Camilo Mora, Nature

While observing that mining operations are leaving once-dominant China in significant numbers, due to a “combination of cheap abundant electricity, friendlier regulation, fast internet connections and, to a lesser degree, cooler climates” elsewhere, much of CoinShares’ analysis still focused on a fine-grained understanding of the mining ecosystem in China, where they say at most 60% of mining is undertaken.

A key observation made is that the vast majority of bitcoin mining in China occurs in regions enacting policies of so-called “curtailment.”

‘Curtailment’

In the past few years, China has gone on a bonanza of renewable energy investment, even becoming the highest-producing nation of solar energy last year. This has led to a glut of power that some regional power grids can’t handle, and which have had to be artificially throttled as a result.

Bloomberg has only yesterday reported on this issue, saying “The world’s biggest clean energy investor [i.e., the Chinese government] has had to slow the introduction of renewable power because some grids were not capable of handling big increases.”

Bitcoin mining in China has gravitated to these regions of curtailment, scooping up cheap electricity costs in areas of oversupply and low population, which have come to rely on government subsidies rather than demand.

The upshot of all of this is that, in CoinShares’ estimation, a shocking 95% of Chinese mining occurs using renewable energy, with 80% of total Chinese mining (or 48% of global mining) occurring in just one province: Sichuan.

Outside China, the ratio does not change much. Most of the hotspots of non-Chinese mining - typically cold places like Iceland, Georgia, or the Northwestern US - have very high incidence of renewable energy usage, with Russia being the most glaring exception at only 17% according to CoinShares’ data.

It bears mentioning that this general argument, although perhaps most dutifully elaborated by CoinShares, has been made before - most notably by the crypto-evangelist Andreas Antonopoulos. The price of bitcoin had a brief respite today, showing strength and climbing back above the $4,000 mark for the second time in a few days.

Bitcoin Mining Pool Tries to Help Tone Vays Win $10K Bet Against Roger Ver

Cryptocurrency mining pool SlushPool has recently manually added a BTC transaction into a block to help Tone Vays, a derivatives trader and analyst, win a wager mage against BCH proponent Roger Ver.

The wager was made at the 2019 Malta AI & Blockchain Summit, during a debate between bitcoin (BTC) proponent Tone Vays and Bitcoin.com CEO and BCH advocate Roger Ver. In it, Ver argued BTC transactions are too expensive for business use due to the cryptocurrency’s small block size.

Vays, on the other hand, argued segregated witness (SegWit) and second-layer scaling solutions like the Lightning Network allow users to make small transactions without paying high fees, and that he has been using BTC on-chain without paying too much for transactions.

The debate ended up seeing Vays send Roger Ver $5 worth of BTC with a one satoshi per byte transactions fee – equal to the fees paid on the Bitcoin Cash chain – to see if it would confirm the same day. If it did, the CEO of Bitcoin.com claimed he would donate $10,000 to a charity of Vays’ choice.

During the debate, both parties noted the transaction was “priority 23,836 out of 24,355 transactions,” meaning that most transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain had to clear before miners picked that one up, at least according to fees paid for transactions.

As Vays soon noted on social media the transaction cleared after 10 hours. Some, however, found it strange. Cobra Bitcoin, the pseudonymous co-owner of Bitcoin.org and Bitcointalk, pointed out on social media that SlushPool – the mining pool that found the block the transaction was included in – manually added it to help Vays win the bet.

Cobra Bitcoin figured it wasn’t mined “naturally” as it was the second transaction included in the block – right after the coinbase transaction – despite the fee being less than 1% of that of all other transactions included in the block.

On Reddit, users pointed this out and accused SlushPool of manually adding the transaction. The mining pool, according to some users, is known for supporting BTC and being against Bitcoin Cash.

Should Roger Ver Pay?

The wager quickly became a controversial topic that seems to bring back memories of the scaling debate that was going on before Bitcoin Cash forked off of the Bitcoin network back in August of 2017.

Some argue that Roger Ver’s point stands as the transaction wasn’t “naturally” confirmed, but manually included in a block. Moreover the CEO of Bitcoin.com claimed he’d donate the money if it confirmed that day, and when the transaction did confirm it was past midnight in Malta.

On the other hand, some claim the transaction did go through anyway, and as such Roger Ver should donate the funds to a charity of Tone Vays’ choice. Moreover, Vays himself argued BCH supporters could have spammed the BTC mempool with two satoshis per byte transactions to stop his from clearing on time.

On Twitter, Vays created a poll that was retweeted by SlushPool and admitted the mining pool did prioritize the transaction. It currently shows most users believe Roger Ver should donate the funds. As one commenter pointed out, however, the results may change if Ver and other BCH supporters retweet the poll.