The amount of power that goes into securing Bitcoin has long been a heated discussion point. To compare Bitcoin with another big experiment; the Hadron collider in Europe supposedly uses 1.3TWh per year and Bitcoin is estimated to use 22 TWh per year.
One project is aiming to test theories about physics to potentially discover new understandings and the other is attempting to replace or augment the existing economic system; introducing millions of people into a globally connected financial system, whilst removing unnecessary corruptible intermediaries, and enabling previously implausible business, supply chain, and trade models.
In the business world, Google used 5.5 TWh per year as of 2015 and has already enabled massive changes in industry, thousands of new businesses and improved access to information for billions of users around the world, primarily through search and advertising. Most wouldn’t argue that energy is wasted every though it’s essentially burned to power huge server farms. Every search and clicks increases the value of the data they collect to organise the worlds information. Which in turn makes us feel smarter at the very least.
If blockchain technology such as Bitcoin can link the worlds financial and supply chains on the digital layer in a truly borderless fashion it isn’t unthinkable that they could have a much wider impact than Google. Every non-cash transaction, every IoT (Internet of Things) touchpoint, every shipment, every build, every contract, could be secured, understood, and optimised on a global scale. And while it’s not even close to reaching it’s full potential, there are already entire teams working on ways to reduce it’s energy usage whilst retaining its utility value.
Proof of Work (what this article uses to cheerlead for Bitcoin’s death) as a method for securing this new infrastructure may not be ideal but as of now it’s the best we’ve got and is helping to foster a wave of innovation. It has inspired people to try new things like using the computational power to generate useful data and others are experimenting with things like using excess storage space in data centres, or even using the digital assets themselves as a way to secure the system.
If a truly superior mining mechanism emerges, it is quite possible that it could be integrated with Bitcoin through a software upgrade known as a hard fork. Or it could be that a competing digital asset that emerges from all of this research simply takes the throne as the power behind the Bitcoin network both literally and metaphorically falls away.
And who knows, when all is said and done; perhaps the hadron collider, crowdfunded for another 50 years via Bitcoin, will reveal a great secret behind the universe that pays the energy bill for both many times over?