As a civil engineer still working in the construction industry full-time, the burgeoning Bitcoin ecosystem is not an environment where I can easily make any significant impact in terms of technological development or coding. That said, there are several civil engineering skills that transfer over to the Bitcoin space, mainly, environmental analysis and strong knowledge of the built environment and traditional commodity mining, which is where I initially found my niche in the Bitcoin space back in 2014.
If you were wondering why I’d only previously compared Bitcoin to banking, gold and the military industrial complex, and not more industries and sectors such as my very own building and construction sector, or even healthcare or transport (road, rail, air and sea) for that matter, then today’s your lucky day! Let’s have a look at some data on all of the above.
How Much Energy Is Bitcoin Consuming?
For context, at time of writing, the Cambridge Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index (CBECI) estimates Bitcoin’s annual energy use at 79 terawatt hours (TWh).
The next question is one of carbon intensity. In a previous article, I calculated the carbon intensity of the Bitcoin network to be around 420 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour (kWh) based on data from Cambridge’s “3rd Global Cryptoasset Benchmarking Study.” However, this was long before the Chinese mining exodus happened in June and July 2021, where almost half of the entire network unplugged its mostly coal-powered rigs.
Figure 17 from that report (page 27), shown below as figure One, demonstrates the typical energy sources for miners around the world.
China is now out of the picture, and fresh data from the Bitcoin Mining Council (BMC) (figure two) shows that over two-thirds of the membership, representing almost one-third of the network hash rate, is being powered by low-emissions energy sources, and that global Bitcoin mining is now estimated to receive 56% of its energy needs from sustainable sources (solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, geothermal and other “renewables”).
To that end, I offer a new global mining profile and carbon intensity figure of 280 grams of CO2 per kWh, using my original methodology presented in this previous article (see section one on energy mix) based on the below assumed generation mix, and 50th percentile IPCC carbon intensity figures (see page 190). The dramatic drop is a result of moving a large proportion of the network from coal to gas, cutting the carbon intensity of Bitcoin by a third.
As can be seen, since the Chinese exodus, Bitcoin’s carbon intensity has dropped by a third, from 419 to 280, mainly as a result of shifting away from coal to the much cleaner natural gas. Comparing Bitcoin to global primary energy…