The Heat of Bitcoin

This fall, we completed a backyard cottage. It’s currently unoccupied and so I agreed to allow a friend to run three Bitcoin AntMiner machines out there. This is Seattle and it was in the forties outside and I’d shut off the heat to the building while we ran these three machines. We were only running them at two-third’s power and still, the temperature inside popped up to 92℉. I had to keep three upstairs windows open, just to maintain the temperature in the 80s.

This was my first time being in contact with actual Bitcoin mining machines. They are super loud and are like running little heaters.

I was curious because I’d heard lots of stats thrown around, and apparently, there is some controversy around estimates of Bitcoin mining electricity usage.¹ From what I could find, total worldwide energy consumption is around 33 billion kilowatt hours. For comparison, total US electricity consumption in 2016 was 3.85 trillion kilowatt hours. So, if these numbers are to be believed, Bitcoin electricity consumption is 1/1,000 of total US electricity consumption. If anyone with more knowledge on this subject has a clearer picture, please let me know.

The point is, my experience over the last few days demonstrated, very heatedly, what kind of energy usage these machines create – and it’s a lot. Over the course of three and a half days, my friend made around a hundred bucks, so I can see the draw from the miner’s perspective, but from a societal perspective, there just has to be more ecologically sustainable paths toward building decentralized consensus facilitation. Maybe proof of stake? Not my field, but man, this experience has taken a lot of the shine off this technology for me personally. It went from a theoretical “yeah, they consume a lot of power” to “wow, that’s not good.”

¹ https://www.cnbc.com/2017/12/21/no-bitcoin-is-likely-not-going-to-consume-all-the-worlds-energy-in-2020.html

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