‘The Real-World Costs of the Digital Race for Bitcoin’

Gabriel J.X. Dance, reporting for The New York Times (with informative graphics by Tim Wallace and Zach Levitt) on the Bitcoin mining industry:

It is as if another New York City’s worth of residences were now drawing on the nation’s power supply, The Times found.

In some areas, this has led prices to surge. In Texas, where 10 of the 34 mines are connected to the state’s grid, the increased demand has caused electric bills for power customers to rise nearly 5 percent, or $1.8 billion per year, according to a simulation performed for The Times by the energy research and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.

The additional power use across the country also causes as much carbon pollution as adding 3.5 million gas-powered cars to America’s roads, according to an analysis by WattTime, a nonprofit tech company. Many of the Bitcoin operations promote themselves as environmentally friendly and set up in areas rich with renewable energy, but their power needs are far too great to be satisfied by those sources alone. As a result, they have become a boon for the fossil fuel industry: WattTime found that coal and natural gas plants kick in to meet 85 percent of the demand these Bitcoin operations add to their grids.

The costs of Bitcoin seem clear: higher energy prices and more carbon emissions. Totally unclear: what we should, or even can, do about it.

Monday, 10 April 2023