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To understand how Bitcoin mining uses fossil fuels, researchers must look at proxies, interviews, and news reports. They can also use calculations based on the performance of the bitcoin network. In one study, researchers found that three-quarters of the electricity used by bitcoin mines is renewable. This finding is not entirely surprising, as coal accounts for two-thirds of China’s energy use. Regardless of the exact number of renewable energy sources, Bitcoin mining is likely to continue to have a negative impact on the environment.
In addition to the high carbon intensity of hydroelectricity, Bitcoin mining uses fossil fuels to produce the cryptocurrency. Some miners are concerned about the rising costs of electricity, which may increase if the fossil fuel supply is glutted. Another emerging concern is electronic waste, which is created when ASIC mining devices degrade and cannot be reused. Similarly, the energy consumption of Bitcoin mining operations is contributing to climate change and threatening natural habitats.
Recently, a cryptocurrency-mining operation converted a former coal-fired power plant to run on natural gas. The natural gas, which is often an after-product of oil production, would otherwise be burned in flares, releasing large amounts of CO2. By selling this gas to crypto miners, the company is reaping the benefits of both parties — the crypto miners, and the energy companies. They are still emitting CO2 but are generating something of value. Moreover, the technology is replicable across the globe. Gazprom, a Russian oil and gas company, has even started mining at its former coal-fired plant in Siberia.
The rapacious demand for energy is driving governments to react in different ways. In Canada, for example, the government offers discounted electricity to mining operations. This is one way for government to encourage its economy, but governments are weighing the idea of outright banning cryptocurrency mining because it pollutes the environment and threatens public health. However, the government has not taken any official action so far. It is unclear which side is the right one.
In the United States, it is clear that Bitcoin mining is a massively wasteful industry. By using fossil fuels, mining operations consume ever more electricity. The process of proof-of-work verification has been proven to be inefficient, and the carbon emissions from bitcoin mining are a wasteful practice on a large scale. The cryptocurrency market analyst Simon Peters recommends switching to proof of stake mining. However, Bitcoin mining will not stop until it is environmentally sustainable.
A recent study by CoinShares has highlighted a problem with renewable energy deployment. Many renewable power generators are underutilized or poorly located, creating new issues for renewable energy. The only viable use for the electricity produced by cryptocurrency mining is in the process of mining for Bitcoin. Bitcoin is highly volatile and critics have labeled it as a pump-and-dump scheme. Bitcoin mining is a huge source of e-waste.