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Communications of the ACM


The Outlook for Crypto

bitcoin aflame, illustration

Credit: Tomasz Makowski

Some people see cryptocurrency as the future of money, promising high returns and independent of any government. Others see it as risky, enabling illegal activity and vulnerable to loss. One thing everyone agrees on, however, is that mining cryptocurrency takes a lot of energy.

Estimates vary, but experts believe bitcoin miners—the people who run computations in order to earn new bitcoins—are using approximately half of 1% of the world's energy output. Digiconomist, a website that tracks resources used, says Bitcoin, the world's largest cryptocurrency, was consuming almost 131 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity on an annualized basis as of late August, approximately the same amount as the entire country of Argentina. The second-largest cryptocurrency, Ethereum, was consuming 78TWh per year, comparable to the annual energy consumption of Chile. Dogecoin clocked in at a bit more than 3TWh, similar to Montenegro. That massive energy use leads to increased carbon emissions and contributes to climate change.


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