What’s the Most Sustainable Form of Bitcoin Mining? (Consensus 2023 After Hours)

Much has been made of Bitcoin’s energy consumption, and how much power miners are expected to consume in the long term. But where will that power come from – eco-friendly renewables, or “dirty” hydrocarbons like coal and natural gas?

On Wednesday evening in a suite near Consensus 2023, Bitcoiners convened to debate this very question.

The Hydrocarbon Side

The debate – held as part of the Bitcoin Commmons’ Nakamoto Forum Debate Series – explored if “Hydrocarbons are the most sustainable source of energy to mine bitcoin,” as its resolution. 

Steve Barbour – founder of oil and gas miner Upstream Data – stood in favor of the motion. Jesse Peltan – co-founder of renewable-powered mining firm HODL Ranch – argued against it. 

Barbour argued that solar and wind are “garbage” sources of industrial power generation., whereas hydrocarbons provide the most sustainable pathway to thrive – especially in the context of Bitcoin mining. 

“One reason why they’re so cheap is because it’s only one part of the stack,” he said. “It;s one of many byproducts that we cannot get rid of.”

Barbour also pointed out the unreliability of renewable power generation, and the advantages hydrocarbons present in allowing people to use them on an individual basis to generate power. 

Bitcoin Mining Sustainability Debate at Bitcoin Commons (Consensus 2023). Barbour: Left; Peltan: Right.

The Renewable Side

Peltan, by contrast, claimed that humans will inevitably transition to harnessing renewables for the sheer amount of energy they provide.

“Hydrocarbons place a significant limit on the total amount of energy available to use,” he said. Ultimately, all of Earth’s latent energy stored in both the ground and the atmosphere amount to just 3 years of sunlight. 

Peltan added that fossil fuels will continue losing relevance to renewables and that 90% of Bitcoin miners will eventually be powered by renewable sources. 

The debate’s audience was initially split on the topic, divided into rough thirds on whether they agreed, disagreed, or felt undecided about the statement. Afterward, seven votes moved to Peltan, making him the winner of the debate.

The Bitcoin Mining Council periodically surveys the largest Bitcoin mining operations worldwide, finding that over half of them currently power their facilities through green sources. Certain lobbyist campaigns have attempted to depict Bitcoin mining as something deeply environmentally harmful, but the community consistently rejects such attacks. 

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