Energy efficient cryptocurrency still emits as much carbon as 2-3 coal plants

I own some cryptocurrency—a decision which began mostly out of necessity, until I saw how much it ballooned, and then I decided that I'll keep this around and see what happens. But as cool as it's been to see the value of my minuscule investment blossom and boom, I've also been well aware that Bitcoin transaction processing requires about 91 terawatts of energy each year.

So I've been trying to trade off my Bitcoin for Ethereum (I don't want to deal with Capital Gains taxes, ya know?). And that's been going well for me! I'd heard that Ethereum was a more environmentally friendly cryptocurrency, whatever-the-fuck that means. But it turns out, a "more environmentally friendly cryptocurrency" still ain't so great. One cryptocoin-curious individual recently did the math, and here's what they found:

If these numbers are right, Ethereum is using around 2.6 gigawatts (GW) right now, which would annually come to around 23 terawatt hours per year (TWh/year). This could be made to sound large, by comparing it to an entire country like Ecuador (26 TWh/year) or a US state like Massachusetts (21 TWh/year). Or it could be made to sound small, because it's only 0.1% of global electricity—people in the USA use three times as much electricity each year just watching television. What's the most appropriate comparison to make? There's nothing quite like this "world computer slash cryptocurrency" in our everyday life. Our most familiar references in the digital world are centralized products like Facebook, which serves billions of people on 7.2TWh/year. Ethereum, by comparison, can only handle around 15 transactions per second.

In terms of emissions, we could compare the 20 ktCO2/day, annualized to 7 MtCO2/year, to an entire small country like Costa Rica (9 MtCO2/year). Or we could compare it to the yearly emissions of 500 thousand people in the USA, or 4.2 million people in India. A typical coal power plant running at full steam emits around 3 MtCO2 per year. For every day that proof-of-stake is delayed, Ethereum is effectively operating a two to three coal power plants.

On one hand, this confirms that Ethereum is indeed more environmentally friendly than Bitcoin!…but it turns out, that might not be such a great selling point after all.

Ethereum Emissions [Kyle McDonald / Medium]

Bitcoin Uses More Electricity Than Many Countries. How Is That Possible? [Jon Huang, Claire O'Neill and Hiroko Tabuchi  / New York Times]

Image: Public Domain via Alfa