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Bitcoin, gold or traditional banking: It will surprise you to know which uses the most energy

Bitcoin, gold or traditional banking: It will surprise you to know which uses the most energy

Bitcoin, gold or traditional banking: It will surprise you to know which uses the most energy
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By CNBCTV18.com Nov 9, 2022 6:41:37 AM IST (Published)

Recent studies have found that, while Bitcoin has massive environmental implications, the traditional banking sector and gold mining give the digital currency a good run. In fact, the former is said to consume at least double the energy annually

Over the last few years, proof-of-work (PoW) cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have taken significant flak from authorities and environmentalists. These networks are deemed to be highly power-intensive and said to leave a massive carbon footprint.

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This is because the mining process of Bitcoin and other PoW blockchains requires vast computational power, resulting in high energy consumption. It's the reason why China decided to ban Bitcoin mining in May last year. Following suit, New York also issued restrictions on mining operations that use carbon-based power sources.
However, recent studies have found that, while Bitcoin has massive environmental implications, the traditional banking sector and gold mining give the digital currency a good run. In fact, the former is said to consume at least double the energy annually. Surprised? Tag along to find out more.
How much energy goes Bitcoin consume?
According to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index (CBECI), BTC consumes electricity at an annualized rate of 120 terawatt-hours (TWh). That's more than enough electricity to power the country of Norway for an entire year, according to Forbes. This number also translates into 707 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per transaction.
What about the traditional banking system?
While Bitcoin's energy consumption certainly is alarming, it's nowhere close to that of the traditional banking system. Michel Khazzaka, an IT engineer and cryptographer, published a research report in June stating that Bitcoin transactions are a "million times more efficient" than the legacy financial system.
According to his report, power consumption of the traditional banking sector stands at a whopping 4,981 TWh, more than 50 times more energy than Bitcoin. Khazzaka arrived at this figure after factoring in the creation and transportation of money, along with energy usage of physical banking infrastructure, such as banks, ATMs, data servers, etc.
However, Khazzaka intentionally does not consider the energy used to manufacture and transport materials required to build the physical infrastructure of the traditional banking system. He states that his "numbers are underestimated for banking and extremely accurate for Bitcoin."
A 2021 study by Galaxy Digital provided similar findings. It stated that Bitcoin consumed 113.89 terawatt hours (TWh) per year, while the banking sector consumed 263.72 TWh per year. While there is a clear disparity between the reports from Khazzaka and Galaxy Digital, it's clear that Bitcoin consumes much lesser energy than its traditional counterpart.
And gold?
According to the CBECI, the annual power consumption of gold mining stands at 131 TWh of electricity per year. That's 10 percent more than Bitcoin's 120 TWh. This further builds the case for Bitcoin as an emerging digital gold. Moreover, Michel Khazzaka believes that CBECI's calculations are a bit on the higher side.
Considering the average lifespan of Bitcoin mining machines and the rate at which new IT materials are created, Khazzaka puts Bitcoin's energy consumption at 88.95 TWh per year. And if we refer to Galaxy Digital's findings, gold mining consumes 240.61 TWh per year. This is a considerable difference from Cambridge's estimate and further widens the gaps between BTC, gold and the traditional banking sector.
Bitcoin is getting better
Faced with criticism from lawmakers and environmentalists, the Bitcoin mining industry has quickly begun transitioning to sustainable energy solutions. Solar and wind energy are fast becoming the go-to option for crypto miners. These energy sources help mining firms go off the grid and reduce operational costs considerably. Not to mention, they also reduce the environmental impact of the mining industry considerably.
Moreover, these efforts are starting to pay dividends. Last month, the Bitcoin Mining Council published a report stating that 59 percent of the global mining industry now uses sustainable energy sources. Moreover, the mining industry's efficiency is also improving, leading to less energy consumption per transaction. An article by Forbes states that Bitcoin's electricity consumption declined 25 percent in the last year, while its hash rate has climbed 23 percent. This shows an increase in efficiency by 63 percent from the previous year.
Conclusion
Sure, Bitcoin and other proof-of-work cryptocurrencies have a clear power consumption problem. However, a lot is being done to remedy this issue and ensure that these digital assets are environmentally friendly. If the traditional banking sector and gold mining industry do not follow suit, it will further Bitcoin’s case as a future currency of the world.
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