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As more users use bitcoin and "forced work" difficulty increases what effect does this have ecologically? It is a silly question I know. I'm just comparing lets say value or effect of using computational power for protein folding vs bitcoin and curious if anyone has given or found some thought/exploration on the matter.

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Are you asking what impact the Bitcoin mining has on ecology and how to control it, or the economical benefits of mining rather than folding or the like, because the later part of your question is not quite clear. Could you clarify your question a bit? –  ThePiachu Jan 7 '12 at 3:54
    
Sorry, you are right. The first is a practical question and the latter is just a thought in comparison. Some clustering CPU power projects are easier to justify footprint impact than others. –  cyphunk Jan 7 '12 at 13:06
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4 Answers

Blockchain.info reckons the network used 156.51 megawatt hours of electricity in the last 24 hours. This random physics page I googled up reckons a car driving at 40mph takes 100kW (so, 2.4 MWh in 24 hours).

So by these (very) rough figures, running the Bitcoin network takes about as much energy as driving 65 cars.

How many vehicles are used in the transportation of physical cash? Not to mention the energy costs of physically storing and securing cash. I'd say Bitcoin is almost certainly a net positive for the environment to the extent that it displaces physical cash.

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You forgot to compare the energy cost of the Bitcoin network with the energy cost of mining, storing, and transporting precious metals. –  Elias Zamaria Nov 24 '13 at 20:43
    
@jl6: We cannot say that Bitcoin save fuel right now because not any coins have been withdrawn from streets thanks to Bitcoin. Physical cash is already displaced by Credit cards and online payment. This has nothing to do with Bitcoin. –  bokan Dec 6 '13 at 17:01
    
@EliasZamaria : Money is not tied to precious metals since years ! Money just came from dept contracted to banks. –  bokan Dec 6 '13 at 17:02
    
Still, precious metals can be used as a currency or a store of wealth, so I think it would make sense to compare them. –  Elias Zamaria Dec 6 '13 at 18:08
    
@jl6 How did you determine the electricity consumption number? bci says 113,000 megawatt hours based on a outdated number of 650watts per gigahash/s. So why cite bci if you are using a different number? Give the basis of your number. –  Abdussamad Dec 6 '13 at 23:58
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Increase in difficulty does not make Bitcoin miners mine any harder, it just takes them a longer time to solve a block. Their power consumption per unit of time remains the same.

On the other hand, more miners joining the network and mining increases the difficulty. Correlation is similar, although causality is reversed.

So, what impact does the increased hashing speed (and thus increased difficulty) have on the ecology? Well, more resources (electricity, hardware) are used to create new coins. In return the Bitcoin network gets more and more secure from attacks.

But if you want to control the ecological footprint of Bitcoins, you should look into the USD/Difficulty ratio, that is how profitable mining is. Some miners operate on a tight margin, so getting that ratio lower would make them quit, and vice versa - get it high enough and people would want to mine with the least efficient hardware they can find.

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To date, there has not been a single suggestion as to how to provide a work distribution system that is not centralized that would at the same time not be vulnerable to cheating.

In other words, it would be great if there was a way to not have to rely on sha256() hash calculations being done 9,000,000,000,000 times per second (the current hashing rate) and do something like folding instead. But nobody can envision a way to do this where if someone isn't following the rules they don't disadvantage everyone else. If there was a master node -- that would work, but with bitcoin, there is no master node.

An alt currency called Litecoin uses a different approach where GPUs don't give the miner an advantage but the the same concept of a proof of work useless for anything other than verifying the blockchain is the output.

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Proof of work is a means to an end (synchronizing a transaction timeline), there certainly have been suggestions how to reach this end with less resources spent on proof of work. –  Meni Rosenfeld Jan 7 '12 at 16:18
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It's a good question you're asking there. And the answer is plain simple : Bitcoin is definitely not environment friendly by design.

The reason is that it is designed to keep the output rate stable at 1 block every 10 minutes regardless the amount of computing power we give it. The more computers are working, the harder it become to solve a block.

This is a big concern for many (me first). If Bitcoin became THE money, financial groups will invest massive amount of money in mining and we will see humanity asphyxiated for crunching numbers. That would be the most ridiculous end of the world. :)

On the other hand, we can think of Bitcoin being the holly grail of money. Something that is available in a known limited in quantity (we don't know how much gold is on earth). It is far less virtual than the current moneys that are not tied to any physical value (gold) or limits and that banks are creating out of nothing. Bitcoin is certainly a way to get out of the actual system that led us to where we are : a world led by a minority that just care about their wallet and not about the future of earth.

I hope that we will find a Bitcoin alternative that require a limited amount of energy to run the system.

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