With its immense electricity consumption even in a single transaction, which could power a house for a month, questions regarding the sustainability of bitcoin rise while discussions on its reliability as an investment channel still prevail.
Rising around twentyfold since the beginning of 2017, bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, has come to the fore as the world’s fastest-growing asset. However, the exploding prices of the cryptocurrency have not only raised question marks in terms of its financial sustainability but also its environmental sustainability, as generating the bitcoin requires a high amount of energy.
According to a report in the World Economic Forum, the electricity used in a single bitcoin transaction could power a house for a month. While the entire bitcoin network reportedly consumes more energy than a number of countries, the report said that by 2020, bitcoin mining (the process of generating a bitcoin) could consume the same amount of electricity every year as is currently used by the entire world. Speaking to Daily Sabah on the issue, Kapital FX deputy research manager Enver Erkan and Monitise MEA sofware developer Anıl Akarsu, said a large amount of electricity and power is being consumed in bitcoin mining.
“Future electricity spending estimates have already been surpassed because in the last two to three months interest in cryptocurrencies and mining has increased very quickly. It is very difficult to think that it is sustainable at this point,” said Akarsu.
As for Erkan, he indicated that, when Turkey, as a country where electricity is expensive, is taken into consideration, bitcoin production does not seem to be profitable. He also said that the southeast Anatolia region, which has widespread illegal electricity use, is becoming the subject of this trend.
Speaking of how the bitcoin works and how it is created, Anıl said, “Bitcoin is a currency unit that works with Blockchain technology and emerges as a result of some transactions. The miners have to find a special number to collect the money transfers to a block and add that block to the existing chain, and this number appears in a completely random way. So the miners try one by one and figure out the right number by looking at the result. That is why there is an incredible race and the miner who can try the most different numbers in a second is the closest miner to finding the right number and getting the reward.”
Indicating that nowadays individual mining is so difficult that it is almost impossible, Akarsu said there are mining pools, and the miners are collectively trying to combine their number trial strength, in other words, the hash power. “While doing so, graphics cards or customized circuits that use a lot of electricity and power are being used. In addition, since these systems get very hot, a system is also installed to cool them. When all these things are taken together, an incredible amount of electricity is being consumed.
We can say that the bitcoin and all the other coins that work with the aforementioned process (Proof of Work) are extremely harmful to the world and the environment. Future electricity spending estimates have already been surpassed, because in the last two to three months, interest in cryptocurrencies and mining has increased very quickly. It is very difficult to think that it is sustainable at this point. I expect severe protests and actions to be made by those with a high environmental conscience in the near future because of the use of this energy. States at some point will also take measures to prevent this situation,” he said.
Indicating that in the recent times, special equipment aiming to increase the power of the CPU, in other words, a processor, for bitcoin mining has been developed, and that these high power special devices make it possible to obtain a bitcoin much faster, Erkan said these machines are using a lot of power and consequently consume too much electricity. “In recent days, there have been operations regarding bitcoin mining with illegal electricity. Electricity in the U.S. is cheaper compared to Turkey, which makes bitcoin mining more prevalent there,” he said.
Arguing that he thinks it is very difficult to get ahead of bitcoin mining, Akarsu said, “Instead of looking at things from the perspective of taking measures and forbidding, it will be healthier to look at them from the Blockchain technology side. The mining does not only have to go by the process I mentioned. There are also systems that do not require competition to find a correct number and where miners do not consume so much more electricity. For instance, in the system named ‘Proof of Stake,’ this mining process does not really happen, but it is simulated. Those who want to be miners take risks by setting forth their balances and are entitled to become miners. With a selection system based on the fact that the person who takes more risks afterward is luckier, the miner is selected for the next block and the process is completed.
This system is much more environmentally friendly because it does not require anyone to find a number and consume energy. Even though a switch to such a system is not on the horizon for bitcoin, the ‘Ethereum’ blockchain, worked on by Ether, another popular cryptocurrency, plans to switch its system to the Proof of Stake very soon.” Erkan said coin mining has acquired a different dimension abroad, and the speed battle among special devices is constantly causing new products to be produced, and these products are constantly taking orders.
“There are even mining companies being established for this purpose. Manufacturers are beginning to produce microchip-like devices that use less electricity to increase efficiency. This method is called ASIC mining and is likely to become much more common in the future. Still, under today’s circumstances, bitcoin mining by purchase of special devices can lead to an overall loss. It is necessary to keep up with the new technologies, and if we consider that at the same time there are more than 800 sub-coins, other coins based on different technologies and algorithms might be preferred for mining,” he said.
Commenting on the statements issued by many analysts around the world that the bitcoin is a bubble about to burst due to unstoppable fluctuations in the price, the deputy research manager said, “It was possible to say this for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. However, bitcoin trade started at the CME as a forward contract and the establishment of a bitcoin trading desk by Goldman Sachs should be read as a sign of a permanence of this system. What scares me more than bitcoin itself is it gaining extreme value in such a short time.
All in all, it gaining the value of up to $20,000 in one year is unreasonable. Therefore, it is possible that this instrument, which has gained major value in a short period of time, can also experience a rapid fall in a very short time, and as a matter of fact, it has experienced a decline down to $13,000 in the recent days.”
Erkan also underscored that at the same time, they heard that investors wanting to sell their bitcoins to some companies that are carrying out bitcoin transactions are experiencing difficulties. “I think that, as these markets get more organized and if the countries create supervised crypto money markets, it would become much more presentable. The crypto money works of the central banks such as the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank (ECB) is the point in question.
For instance, given that the Fed issued a “Fedcoin,” bitcoin would go for nothing in two days because the more regulative crypto money, which also has a central bank behind it, would go up in price more rationally and would be seen more trustworthy. Right now, I do not think that the people who buy crypto money and those who sell it know why they buy or sell it. Perhaps just like the transition from the Bretton Woods system to the current financial system, the transition from physical money to the crypto money could be become a technological revolution, yet for this we need to track not the bitcoin or sub coins, but the blockchain technology itself,” he said.
Speaking of the regulations regarding the cryptocurrencies, especially bitcoin that came to the agenda recently, he said, “I agree with the possible necessity of a financial arrangement behind bitcoin or other crypto money because we know that informality in bitcoin is large, and it is used intensively in money laundering. That is to say, it is a black market to the core. Now, bitcoin is not a country currency, and it is not printed by any central bank. So theoretically, it is not related to the economy of any country. Opening an account is easy, some procedures are extra easy. We know that from time to time China has aligned the bitcoin market. There are organizational risks such as cyberattack and hacking, and there is a lack of a mechanism that could be applied to in such cases.
Underscoring that in bitcoin transfer, the identity of the sender and receiver can be kept confidential, which allows illegal money transfers, Erkan said, “Bitcoin is not a market that should be promoted, but a market that should be taken under control. In fact, getting a share from this market could be achieved by creating a structure that reduces the risks for the individual investors and that is supervised in a secure, deep and tight way. An instrument whose value is determined by supply and demand in the market may become more and more valuable as it becomes popular.”
Speaking about his experience with bitcoin to Daily Sabah, Uğur E., a 30-year-old amateur investor working in the energy sector, said ever since he started to earn his own money, he has been looking for ways to save money. “Since I am not very inclined to take risks in the matter of investment, I have tried traditional types of investment, such as deposit accounts, foreign exchange, and equity share. Since the money I invested was in modest amounts, my earnings also remained in small amounts. Especially considering the recent ups and downs in the Turkish lira in recent years, I was looking for ways to evaluate my savings more differently,” Uğur said.
“At that time (September 2017), bitcoin went up to over $4,000 in a short time. It sounded interesting, so I started to do research from every resource I could find. As I was reading about it, I actually realized that I knew nothing. Since I was generally following the technology developments and social trends, I knew about bitcoin even when it was not very popular, but I did not research how to buy it because I thought it was a risky investment. By the time I decided to invest, bitcoin had already increased above $5,000. Firstly, I tentatively deposited some money into a cloud mining site. Immediately afterward, I also registered to one of the domestic bitcoin stock exchanges and started to invest in cryptocurrencies in real terms. I witnessed bitcoin jumping from $6,000 to $20,000 in one-and-a-half months. In an instant, everyone around me started talking about bitcoin. There was a superb propaganda circulating on social media. Everyone at my workplace started getting bitcoin. Those who bought bitcoin and made a profit at that time and made good money,” he said.
Indicating he still has reservations about crypto money because it is very open to speculation, he said it is hard to trust the intermediary firm and that the volatility is very high. “Most importantly, states have not yet taken position properly. I am sure that a ban of this technology, end of it, or it going out of fashion, is impossible. It will surely extend further into our lives in the future, but I think that in the short run, everybody should walk on eggshells because serious fluctuations may occur,” he added. He stressed that bitcoin was rising very fast when he first invested, adding that he started to diversify his investment by searching for a safe haven in case things go bad.
“I started to invest in sub-coins like Ethereum, Neo, Omisego and Zcash. I soon realized I had made a mistake because the whole crypto market was already losing value when bitcoin, which dominates more than 50 percent of the crypto market and has to be obtained first in order to trade with other sub coins, depreciates. If bitcoin appreciated, it was gaining value faster than 90 percent of the cryptocurrencies in the market. It cost me a lot to learn, but in the end I took a valuable lesson. I now track the prices of the sub coins in terms of the bitcoin value, not in terms of dollar or Turkish lira,” the young amateur investor explained.
Narrating his profit-making adventure, Uğur said, “Since I made some very bad moves during the trading, my profit has decreased significantly, but I can still say that I am around 40-50 percent. Furthermore, it is like this at the moment (Dec. 27) despite the fact that the bitcoin value has declined from $20,000 to around $14,000-$15,000. If it recovers, it will rise even more. I am aware that this is a terrible rate when compared to the traditional investment instruments. I personally think I am a very unsuccessful investor for a market where cryptocurrencies gaining around 70 to 80 percent in value in a day are normal.”