Bitcoin Mining Is Using 30 Times the Energy of All the Teslas in the World Combined
Think electric cars are secretly dirty? The world's biggest cryptocurrency is worse.
One of the big sticks critics use to poke holes in the electric vehicle bubble is pointing out how the supposedly clean cars still rely on a power grid dominated by fossil fuels—in this country, at least. But a new report from Morgan Stanley suggests that it's another piece of future tech that's using electricity at an alarming rate: Bitcoin, whose computer mining operations gobbled up 30 times the amount of juice needed to charge every Tesla on the road in 2017.
The bank estimates that around the world, Bitcoin mining computers used about 36 terawatt hours of energy (about the same as the whole country of Qatar)—a figure that's projected to more than triple this year to 125 terawatt hours as the current cryptocurrency craze continues. Meanwhile, charging up the world's Teslas for a year's worth of driving used an estimated 1.3 terawatt hours—and likely less, as Fortune points out, since the calculations the report used assume every Tesla drove 15,000 miles in 2017. (Even taking into account every single battery-powered car and truck in the world, electric vehicles aren't projected to reach that level of consumption until 2025 at the earliest.)
Why is this, and why on Earth is Bitcoin mining so energy intensive? Without getting too in the weeds on cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin operates on what's known as "the blockchain," a public ledger of every transaction worldwide. This transcript is continually updated throughout the day by a network of so-called miners, who use incredibly powerful computers to try and verify the most recent transactions through a series of massively complex mathematical puzzles, which are then packaged as a "block" and added to the blockchain.
The first miner to do so successfully is eventually rewarded with 25 Bitcoin—the equivalent of $343,000 at today's rates—so there's a lot of incentive to use the biggest and most powerful rig possible. One estimate by The Economist suggests that taken together, all the Bitcoin mining outfits in the world have approximately 13,000 times the computing power of the world's 500 biggest supercomputers. As the cryptocurrency boom goes on, Morgan Stanley projects Bitcoin's energy use will surpass that of the entire nation of Argentina in 2018.