Boffins at Cambridge University have published research that estimates Bitcoin consumes more energy than the whole nation of Switzerland.
The Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, produced by the university's Centre for Alternative Finance, the new tool provides a real-time estimate of the total electricy load and consumption of the Bitcoin network.
Given the estimated nature of the data - based on all types of Bitcoin mining hardware - the index provides a range of possibilities:
- Lower bound - assuming a "best case scenario" where every miner uses the most energy-efficient equipment and maximises expected profits
- Upper bound - assuming a "worst case scenario" were all miners use the least efficient devices available and operate at massive losses
- Best guess estimate - attempting to place an educated guess somewhere between the upper and lower bound that "more accurately quantifies Bitcoin’s real electricity usage"
On to the most fun part of the research, then. Using terawatt-hours (TWh) as the standard unit to measure electricity consumption, the researchers put their findings into perspective by comparing them with other users of electricity.
Here are some striking numbers:
- If Bitcoin were a country, it would be ranked number 42 in the world by annual electricity consumption
- It ranks higher than Switzerland (44), Greece (46) Hong Kong (55), New Zealand (56) and Denmark at (60)
- Bitcoin's total annual consumption (best guess) is 64.15 TWh. Top consumer China's annual usage is 5,564TWh; at number two, the USA's is 3,902TWh
- Of total global renewable energy production: hydroelectricity could power the entire Bitcoin network 77 times; biofuels and waste 11 times and solar and wind 26 times
While Bitcoin miners run power-hungry gear, requiring cooling devices that can also pump up the energy costs, they are - for profitability's sake - at least trying to be as energy-efficient as possible.
In the Cambridge research, the final comparison looks at the inefficient use of energy and estimates that the amount of electricity consumed every year by "always-on but inactive home devices in the USA" could power the Bitcoin network for four years.
There's food for thought next time you go bed leaving the television set and computer on standby.