Anybody being honest about Bitcoin will tell you that it uses quite a bit of energy. It has to, given that the process that creates the cryptocurrency involves computers solving complex equations. Even so, the latest report on the sheer amount of energy used by the decentralized online currency's constant computing is staggering. According to a new study by researchers at the University of Cambridge, Bitcoin may use around the same amount of energy as the entire country of Switzerland in a single year.
The energy-usage was estimated by researchers, who considered a range of options that run from two hypothetical extremes: a worst-case scenario (all Bitcoin miners hitting the bare-minimum of efficiency, the least efficient computers that could still turn a profit) and a best-case (all miners using incredibly efficient machines). The midpoint of the two gives us the best guess of 53.81 terawatt-hours per year, which is enough to power every American household product on standby for four years.
The best-case scenario is 21.81 terawatt-hours while a worst-case hypothetical gives us 148.87 terawatt-hours.
In spite of these numbers, Cambridge researchers pointed out that Bitcoin's impact on the environment is currently negligible.
"There is currently little evidence suggesting that Bitcoin directly contributes to climate change," they wrote. "Even when assuming that Bitcoin mining was exclusively powered by coal - a very unrealistic scenario given that a non-trivial number of facilities run exclusively on renewables - total carbon dioxide emissions would not exceed 58 million tons of CO2, which would roughly correspond to 0.17 percent of the world’s total emissions."