As ASIC miners evolve, Bitcoin becomes more environmentally friendly

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Key facts:
  • Although Bitcoin’s hashrate has grown by 23%, it now consumes 25% less energy.

  • Today’s ASICs are 100 billion times faster than the CPUs used for mining in 2009.

Since their introduction to the world of Bitcoin in 2013, ASIC miners have been steadily evolving to become more and more efficient. Today’s technological advances allow the mining power in the Bitcoin network to grow much more than its electricity consumption does.

Despite the improvements that Bitcoin mining has shown in relation to its footprint on the environment, many media and environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace, continue to present this activity as one of the main culprits of environmental and energy problems of the planet today.

On more than one occasion it has been said that the electricity consumption of Bitcoin is greater than that of countries like Sweden. However, this argument needs to add a list with names like Google, Amazon, YouTube, Netflix and Facebook, among others, which also consume more energy than entire countries.

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As ASIC miners evolve, Bitcoin becomes more environmentally friendly

In response to the accusations against Bitcoin in relation to its energy demand and its impact on the environment, it is important to note that most of the big mining farms of this cryptocurrency use renewable sources of energy, among which the hydroelectric plants lead. However, there are projects underway to harness solar and geothermal energy.

The development of hardware and technology in general that improve the efficiency of Bitcoin mining is not only beneficial for its operation at the network level, but also reduces its environmental impact and may even result in favoring the profitability of this activity.

The current state of the Bitcoin network

According to report of the first quarter of 2022 presented by the Bitcoin Mining Council, Bitcoin’s energy efficiency grew by 63% between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022. In the last 12 months, the consumption of this network went from 12.6 EH/GW to 20.5 EH/GW.

The Bitcoin Mining Council (BMC) is made up of a group of companies dedicated, for the most part, to Bitcoin mining and has members such as Marathon, Hut 8, MicroStrategy, Poolin, Bit Fury and others.

Mining companies belonging to the BMC provide 50% of the Bitcoin hashrate and according to an internal survey, 64.6% of the energy they use comes from renewable sources.

Michael Saylor, co-founder and CEO of MicroStrategy, explains that the Bitcoin hashrate has grown by 23% compared to the first quarter of 2021. In contrast, the electricity consumption of BTC mining is 25% lower than it was back then.

Bitcoin hashrate.
The Bitcoin hashrate in the first quarter of 2021 averaged about 164 EH/s, while in 2022 it has remained above 200 EH/s. Source: Statoshi.info.

Progress in Bitcoin mining and advances in the technology used by ASIC equipment for this purpose mean that, at present, the electricity consumption of the Bitcoin network is only 247 TWh, out of the 154,750 TWh that are generated every year. world level.

The evolution of Bitcoin miners: from the CPU to the ASIC

CPU Mining

Bitcoin mining was not always very efficient or very powerful. In the beginning, when Satoshi Nakamoto started the project of the first cryptocurrency, a common computer was enough to mine BTC.

As the network grew, the rewards of each miner were reduced, since they were distributed among more competitors. Those with the most powerful processors were most likely to get the 50 BTC each miner earned for adding a new block to the chain back then.

GPU Mining

At the end of 2010, the use of graphics cards (GPU) came to Bitcoin mining. Its main advantage over CPUs was its ability to solve mathematical problems in parallel.

This allowed him to be six times more powerfulwhile its price was only twice what a conventional CPU could cost.

Mining with FPGA

Competition from GPUs was not long in coming and by 2011 FPGA (Field Programmable Logic Gate Array) equipment began to be used to mine Bitcoin.

This type of hardware can be configured both at the programming level (software) and at the physical level to work with a specific mining algorithm. This allowed it to be up to twice as powerful as the fastest GPU on the market.

Bitcoin mining FPGA.
FPGAs were the middle ground between GPUs and ASICs. There was a certain degree of versatility, but its reconfiguration was a delicate process. Source: Remus Rigo / adobe.stock.com.

ASIC Mining

Two years later, in 2013, Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) took over Bitcoin mining. The secret of the power that characterizes this type of hardware is that are made to exclusively mine one type of mining algorithm. There is no way to modify or reprogram them to mine a different algorithm. For example: an ASIC to mine Bitcoin, which uses the SHA-256 mining algorithm, cannot and cannot be used to mine Ethereum, since its mining algorithm is Ethash.

A mining algorithm could be compared to a language, since it allows the miner to communicate with the cryptocurrency network to work on it.

ASICs are getting more efficient

According to calculations by Josh Metnick, CEO of cryptocurrency mining consulting firm Navier, today’s ASICs are 100 billion times faster than 2009 CPUswhen Bitcoin was born.

The rapid evolution of the technology related to Bitcoin mining has caused both the hashrate and the mining difficulty of this network to have grown a lot since its origin.

It is worth mentioning that the mining difficulty is a value that automatically increases or decreases, depending on the network hashrate. Its purpose is to maintain the production of blocks at a stable rate, according to information from the White book of the cryptocurrency in question.

Difficulty of mining in Bitcoin mining.
The difficulty of mining in Bitcoin increased along with the hashrate after the arrival of more powerful mining hardware. Source: CoinDesk.

In the graph above you can see that the steepest lines are between the move from CPU to FPGA and then in the evolution of ASIC chips used for mining. The size of these chips was reduced in order to make them faster and more efficient in general.

During the move from the 130nm chip from the first ASIC to the 16nm in 2015, there were 56 mining difficulty settings all of which were ascending. In other words, the Bitcoin hashrate rose steadily for all that time.

The most surprising thing about the evolution of Bitcoin mining hardware is that, as it has become more powerful, its electrical consumption in relation to the power it delivers becomes less and less.

In the previous image you can see how much the efficiency of mining hardware has advanced in the last 13 years. Bitmain’s Antminer U1 model ASIC miner, which went on sale in December 2013, was 700 times more efficient than a standard 2009 CPU.

The most efficient miner shown in the chart is the Antminer S19 XP with 21.5 J/TH. Michael Saylor, in his Explanation On this point, he comments that there is another way of presenting these data. For this it would be said that an S19 XP would need 21.5 megawatts of energy to achieve an exahash of power.

Mining efficiency continues to advance

While the advancement of Bitcoin ASIC miners has been exponential in the last decade, both in mining power and efficiency, more powerful and efficient equipment is on the way. Two of them come from Bitmain, which brings the 198 TH/s Antminer S19 Pro+ Hyd and the 255 TH/s Antminer S19 XP Hyd.

Bitmain’s new ASIC miners feature liquid cooling; This allows the chips that make up the miner to be pushed to the limit, without worrying so much about the temperature they can reach. The efficiency of the S19 Pro+ Hyd is 27.5 J/TH, while that of the S19 XP Hyd is 20.8 J/TH.

The manufacturer of ASIC miners MicroBT also announced the arrival of a device with a liquid cooling system in its arsenal, as CriptoNoticias reported at the time. It is the Whatsminer M53, which offers a mining power of 240 TH/s and an efficiency of 29 J/TH.

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