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Bitcoin’s energy use got studied, and you libertarian nerds look even worse than usual

Bitcoin’s energy footprint has more than doubled since Grist first wrote about it six months ago.

It’s expected to double again by the end of the year, according to a new peer-reviewed study out Wednesday. And if that happens, bitcoin would be gobbling up 0.5 percent of the world’s electricity, about as much as the Netherlands.

That’s a troubling trajectory, especially for a world that should be working overtime to root out energy waste and fight climate change. By late next year, bitcoin could be consuming more electricity than all the world’s solar panels currently produce — about 1.8 percent of global electricity, according to a simple extrapolation of the study’s predictions. That would effectively erase decades of progress on renewable energy.

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Although the author of the study, Alex de Vries, an economist and data consultant based in the Netherlands, has shared these calculations publicly before, this is the first time that an analysis of bitcoin’s energy appetite has appeared in a peer-reviewed journal.

Bitcoin continues to soar in popularity — mostly as a speculative investment. And like any supercharged speculative investment, it swings wildly. Within the past 18 months, the price of bitcoin has soared ten-fold, crashed by 75 percent, only to double again, all while hedge funds and wealthy libertarians debate the future of the virtual currency.

Beyond its tentative success as a get-rich-quick scheme, bitcoin has an increasingly real-world cost. The process of “mining” for coins requires a globally distributed computer network racing to solve math problems — and also helps keep any individual transaction confidential and tamper-proof. That, in turn, requires an ever-escalating arms race of computing power — and electricity use — which, at the moment, has no end in sight. A single bitcoin transaction is so energy intensive that it could power the average U.S. household for a month.

A fluctuating bitcoin price, along with increases in computer efficiency, has slowed the cryptocurrency’s energy footprint growth rate to “just” 20 percent per month so far in this year. If that keeps up, bitcoin would consume all the world’s electricity by January 2021.

That simply won’t happen — government regulators would surely come to their senses by then — but it is a sign of bitcoin’s disastrous growth rate. In recent months, bitcoin supporters have criticized de Vries for being too pessimistic about its energy usage. But, as de Vries writes in the study, his estimates could also be missing out on secretive or illegal participation in the network, meaning there’s maybe even more happening than meets the eye. In at least one instance that de Vries found, a researcher was caught diverting a National Science Foundation supercomputer to mining bitcoin.

It’s a telling social phenomenon of late capitalism that we are willing to construct elaborate computer networks to conduct secure transactions with each other — and in the process torpedoing our hopes at a clean energy future.


Bitcoin’s energy use got studied, and you libertarian nerds look even worse than usual

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Gamers guzzle a crazy amount of energy

Gamers guzzle a crazy amount of energy

By on 1 Sep 2015commentsShare

The average gaming computer guzzles as much energy as three refrigerators — three refrigerators! And since gaming isn’t complete without snacks, we should probably make that four.

That’s because gaming computers are to your average PC what this tricked out monstrosity is to your mom’s Acura. Hardcore gamers enhance their machines with amped-up processors, fancy computer monitors, and fast graphics cards, so battling virtual monsters can end up requiring a lot of computing power. Here’s more from Motherboard:

A new study published in the journal Energy Efficiency finds that worldwide, gaming computers suck down $10 billion worth of electricity (or 75 terawatt hours) a year. Given that sales rates are projected to double by 2020, that figure is expected to do the same. The study finds that while gaming computers comprise just 2.5 percent of personal computers worldwide, they account for 20 percent of global computer energy use.

Evan Mills, a UC Berkeley energy researcher and the study’s co-author, calculates that “a typical gaming computer uses 1,400 kilowatt-hours per year, or six times more energy than a typical PC and 10 times more than a gaming console.”

Worldwide, “it’s like 25 standard electric power plants,” Mills tells me in an email. Imagine that: 25 massive power plants, the kind that power entire cities, running their electricity directly to people playing Counter-Strike and League of Legend. “It’s also like 160 million refrigerators, globally. Or, 7 billion LED light bulbs running 3 hours per day.”

Fortunately, gamers can cut down their energy consumption by as much as 75 percent by just “switching some settings and replacing a few components,” Motherboard reports. For more information, interested gamers can check out Greening the Beast, a website that Mills runs with his son, Nathaniel.

So the next time you’re trying to destroy your opponents’ nexus in League of Legends, think about all those emissions that you’re responsible for and consider making a few changes. And if you want to be really popular among your virtual teammates, tell them to follow suit. (Grist is not responsible for any virtual harm done to your avatar for telling others to green their beasts.)


Gaming Computers Use a Truly Astonishing Amount of Energy

, Motherboard.


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Gamers guzzle a crazy amount of energy

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Tossed in space: NASA plans to farm greens on the moon

Tossed in space: NASA plans to farm greens on the moon

Someday astronauts visiting the moon could toddle out of their space shuttle, harvest basil from their lunar garden, and sprinkle it over their 3D-printed space pizza.

NASA hopes to begin growing radishes, basil, and other plants on the moon in 2015. A two-pound “greenhouse” is planned to be delivered there using an uncrewed Google Lunar X-Prize mission. From New Scientist:

The aim is to find out if the crews of moon bases will be able to grow some of their own greens, a capability that has proved psychologically comforting to research crews isolated in Antarctica and on the International Space Station, NASA says.

Factors that could confound lunar plant growth include the virtual absence of an atmosphere and high levels of solar and cosmic radiation that bombard the moon’s surface. So the space agency is developing a sealed canister with five days’ worth of air, in which seeds can germinate on nutrient-infused filter paper. The idea is that water will be released on touchdown and sunshine will do the rest.

And NASA isn’t hoping to take just agriculture to new heights — it is working to bring food production into space as well, using 3D printing. From the agency’s website:

As NASA ventures farther into space, whether redirecting an asteroid or sending astronauts to Mars, the agency will need to make improvements in life support systems, including how to feed the crew during those long deep space missions.

NASA recognizes in-space and additive manufacturing offers the potential for new mission opportunities, whether “printing” food, tools or entire spacecraft. Additive manufacturing offers opportunities to get the best fit, form and delivery systems of materials for deep space travel.

If NASA can figure out how to grow some space grapes to make moon wine to accompany the herb-enhanced printed pizza, we’ll be up there quicker than you can say Stanley Kubrick.

3D Printing: Food in Space, NASA
Lunar thyme lords: can NASA bloom the moon?, New Scientist

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: johnupton@gmail.com.

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Tossed in space: NASA plans to farm greens on the moon

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