The Carbon Footprint of Bitcoin

Christian Stoll, Lena Klaaßen, and Ulrich Gallersdörfer,

December 2018

Blockchain began with Bitcoin, which was the first successful attempt to validate transactions via a decentralized data protocol. Participation in its validation process requires specialized hardware and vast amounts of electricity, which translate into a significant carbon footprint. Here we demonstrate a methodology for estimating the power consumption associated with Bitcoin’s blockchain based on IPO filings of major hardware manufacturers, insights on mining facility operations, and mining pool compositions. We then translate our power consumption estimate into carbon emissions, using the localization of IP addresses. We determine the annual electricity consumption of Bitcoin, as of November 2018, to be 48.2 TWh, and estimate that annual carbon emissions range from 21.5 to 53.6 MtCO2. The means that the level of emissions produced by Bitcoin sits between the levels produced by the nations of Bolivia and Portugal. With this article, we aim to gauge the external costs of Bitcoin, and inform the broader debate on the costs and benefits of cryptocurrencies. The externalities we discuss here may help policy-makers in setting the right rules as the adoption journey of blockchain has just started.