In response to Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies becoming mainstream, many governments around the world are working on developing a Central Bank Digital Currency – a CBDC.
The benefits of a CBDC:
Reduce the cost of printing and distributing cash.
Increase financial inclusion – bank the unbanked (of which there are billions in the world).
Automated collection of taxes, which could increase money in the federal government’s coffers.
Possibly earn interest on money in your federal CBDC account.
Automated paying of refunds, employment/welfare/pension benefits, etc.
If global payments are allowed, make remittances from ex-pats to “back home” quicker, easier, and cheaper.
Easy, instant access to federal money – into or out of your account.
Combat financial fraud and crime.
Take banks out of the equation.
The risks of a CBDC:
Increased inflation because governments can easily create money and send it directly to citizens.
Increased centralization and vulnerability to hacking.
Loss of privacy – the government has access to your digital wallet.
Reduction and possible elimination of cash – this is another mark in the “loss of privacy” column.
Expiration date on money – use it or lose it. Governments are very interested in this aspect – governments want people to spend money. Saving money or paying down debts doesn’t stimulate economic growth.
Restrictions on what the money can be spent on.
Possible negative interest rates on money in your CBDC account – that is, the government will charge YOU to leave money in this account, since they want you to go spend that money and stimulate the economy.
Automatic collection of fines, child support payments, student loans, etc. Paying what you owe doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but you will have no control over it.
There is no doubt that there will be benefits to citizens with a CBDC. The more interesting question is, will the benefits outweigh the risks? One of the ways we can make sure the benefits outweigh the risks is to keep cryptocurrencies available to the general population, so people have choices, and don’t just have to use what the government is offering. Something to be aware of – governments are likely to want to restrict cryptocurrencies after they put a CBDC into place. Be aware that CBDCs are NOT a cryptocurrency, and we need both for financial freedom.
Bitcoin mining has a reputation for using far too much energy; the cryptocurrency industry is very much aware of this narrative, and is pursuing unique alternatives to just plugging a mining farm into the local coal-fired grid.
A recent development in the Cryptoverse has also seriously reduced Bitcoin mining’s environmental footprint – China has banned mining Bitcoin in their country, and their miners have moved elsewhere. China’s mining was driving a lot of the environmental problems with mining Bitcoin, since they heavily used coal to mine. Since the ban, China’s mining has dropped to zero.
It’s difficult to estimate how much of the global totals for Bitcoin mining (hashrate) comes from using environmentally friendly energy sources, but it’s a safe bet that those number are increasing regularly.
“Although the percentage of bitcoin mined with renewable energy is debated, wind farms in Texas, geothermal power plants in Iceland, and hydro-powered dams in Canada have received attention as promising new locations for miners following China’s ban on ASIC mining. Similarly, El Salvador plans to power a large portion of its mining operations with geothermal energy from the country’s volcanos…Wasted non-renewable energy is also used to mine bitcoin. Most oil and natural gas operations produce excess gas as a byproduct of fracking or other oil production methods. This energy is typically wasted because it dissipates into the atmosphere or is combusted. By capturing and using gas that would otherwise be flared, bitcoin mining operations greatly reduce waste and methane emissions from fracking operations. Bitcoin miners are able to utilize wasted energy and have a cost incentive to find and collect forms of wasted energy.” – https://river.com/learn/bitcoins-energy-consumption/
Bitcoin is mined using geothermal power (like in El Salvador), hydroelectric power (like in British Columbia and Quebec, Canada), using wind power, solar power, and using stranded energy (like flare gases from oil wells).
Recently El Salvador made the news everywhere by becoming the first country to make Bitcoin a legal currency; along with this development is the (less reported) news that El Salvador is going to mine Bitcoin using some of their abundant volcano power.
Canada has an abundance of hydroelectric power, and combining that with our natural cooling capacities makes Canada a desirable location for Bitcoin mining operations.
“Bitfarms, one of the largest cryptocurrency mining firms in Canada, operates five of its warehouses in Quebec. Like dozens of other cryptocurrency mining companies in the province, it uses hydroelectricity.”
Another interesting twist that has just been added to this discussion – North Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada plans to heat buildings using Bitcoin miners. This is a triple-whammy of goodness – BC uses 97% hydroelectric power for their grid, so the miners will be running on renewable energy, and then using the waste heat to heat buildings in the Canadian city (while generating income for the city of North Vancouver as well). Win/win/win!
“The City of North Vancouver, British Columbia, runs on a hydronic district energy system that delivers heat to 100 residential and commercial buildings. Lonsdale Energy Corporation (LEC)… is on a decarbonization journey to implement more renewable and clean energy, transitioning from the use of conventional natural gas….In 2022, the City and LEC will be introducing a novel heat source to their district energy system: bitcoin mining. Over the term of the engagement, MintGreen’s Digital Boilers will prevent 20,000 tonnes of GHGs from entering the atmosphere per MW compared to natural gas. Production of both bitcoin and usable thermal energy positions the Digital Boilers to be the cost leading low-carbon heating technology. – https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/north-vancouver-to-be-worlds-first-city-heated-by-bitcoin-301400596.html?tc=eml_cleartime
Wind power is increasingly becoming part of the mix for the energy used to mine Bitcoin.
“Texas has a lot of wind,” says Joshua Rhodes, an energy analyst at Vibrant Clean Energy, which builds forecasting software for electricity grid operators. The state leads the nation with more than 28 GW of wind power capacity, mostly located in west Texas. Besides the high winds, pro-renewables policies by the federal and state governments have helped fuel the boom….big electricity consumers like Bitcoin mines can negotiate power purchase agreements—contracts that stipulate that they will buy power at a certain price for a certain amount of time—directly with electricity producers, instead of having to deal with intermediaries like utilities….many of the state’s wind farms are far to the west of its biggest population centers, particularly the Houston area. Transmission lines that stretch across the state can move the power to where there is demand for it, but sometimes there’s so much wind power that there’s not enough transmission capacity to carry it all. That means power producers are eager to find customers closer to them who will purchase that excess electricity. In theory, that could give miners leverage to purchase wind power at very low prices.” – https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/02/27/905626/how-texass-wind-boom-has-spawned-a-bitcoin-mining-rush/
Solar power is another option for Bitcoin mining that is growing day by day.
“Bitcoin industry stalwarts Blockstream and Square are constructing a multi-million-dollar solar-powered mining facility… In a recent Compass Mining podcast, King noted that there really isn’t data available to determine exactly how much solar energy is available, but he’s hearing that power grid generation queues are full of new solar companies trying to get in.
“It’s huge,” he said. “There’s gigawatts of solar coming in everywhere.””
The energy we generate isn’t always right next to the population centres that need the energy, and often there is too much energy generated, and this extra energy just goes to waste (for example, wind turbines generating at night when energy demands are at their lowest). Bitcoin mining is an excellent solution to use stranded energy; Bitcoin miners can be ramped up and down quickly, and negotiations can be made with local energy producers for energy rates, and times when the excess energy will be consumed.
The production of oil also creates huge quantities of natural gas, which is usually just flared off (burned). Bitcoin mining can use this excess energy to power miners. It isn’t an ideal situation since the world is working towards stopping using fossil fuels altogether, but using the gas that would be flared off to run Bitcoin miners is actually better for the environment, and the process of flaring off the natural gas will continue until we stop producing oil from wells.
“Another promising avenue for carbon neutral mining is flared natural gas. The process of oil extraction today releases significant amount of natural gas as a byproduct — energy that pollutes the environment without ever making it to the grid. Since it’s constrained to the location of remote oil mines, most traditional applications have historically been unable to effectively leverage that energy. But Bitcoin miners from North Dakota to Siberia have seized the opportunity to monetize this otherwise-wasted resource, and some companies are even exploring ways to further reduce emissions by combusting the gas in a more controlled manner. Of course, this is still a minor player in today’s Bitcoin mining arena, but back of the envelope calculations suggest that there’s enough flared natural gas in the U.S. and Canada alone to run the entire Bitcoin network.” – https://hbr.org/2021/05/how-much-energy-does-bitcoin-actually-consume
This is a great article on a sustainable Bitcoin mining operation, led by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (who is known as a major supporter of the cryptocurrency space).
“Sustainable Mining Operation And Its Effect On Global Energy Economy
“Square, a financial services group, led by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, announced a project in December 2020 known as Bitcoin Clean Energy Initiative (BCEI).
With a fund of USD 10 million, the project aimed to support companies who would contribute to the bitcoin mining ecosystem’s green energy usage.
BCEI published a white paper in April 2021 highlighting the excellent prospects of the bitcoin mining industry in the future.
Bitcoin mining can act as a complementary technology for sustainable energy management as the mining industry is a unique purchaser of electricity. The uniqueness comes from the highly flexible nature of the sector in terms of payment method, location indifference, and electrical load distribution.
Despite being the least expensive energy sources, solar and wind energy have bottlenecks caused by their inability to supply uninterrupted power. Bitcoin miners can address this issue by consuming surplus electricity when production is abundant on a sunny or windy day. This flexibility in load distribution will reduce the cost even further….
When all you hear about Bitcoin mining is negative stories on the nightly news, you can develop a skewed idea of what Bitcoin mining is all about. Yes, it uses a lot of energy (like so many other industries we find necessary in our modern, high-energy-use lives), but that’s nowhere near the whole story. The people involved in the Bitcoin industry are some of the brightest, most technologically advanced people in the world; they know of the energy consumption problems of Bitcoin mining, and are working to make this better.
Bitcoin has a bad reputation for using too much energy (with the implied criticism that this energy isn’t being used for anything worthwhile). This isn’t a completely fair assessment; while Bitcoin does use a lot of energy, we live in an energy-intensive world. Bitcoin is far from the only industry using a lot of energy, and there are arguments to be made that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are providing more value than any number of items on my list below.
The world uses 2000 terawatt hours of energy annually to cool our houses and businesses. Is all of this energy usage for air conditioners essential? No. Is some of it essential? Yes. Who makes this decision? The same question applies to cryptocurrencies – if you’re an unbanked person in Africa, cryptocurrencies can seem quite essential to you.
4. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
“ICT is understood to cover computer and peripheral equipment including local area networks, telecommunication equipment and networks, and data centers…The footprint of ICT (information and communication technologies) is growing continuously in our lives, in an increasing number of countries. A vivid illustration is the increase in the number of mobile phones in the world (more than 6 billion in 2013), and the increasing use of ICT in sensors and cyber-physical systems that help improve our security and wellbeing…In 2012, ICT usage consumed 4.7 percent of electricity worldwide, amounting to approximately 920 TWh (1 TWh is a terawatt-hour or 1012 watt-hours).” – https://ubiquity.acm.org/article.cfm?id=2755977
5. Global Data Centres
I used an average of the high and low numbers for data centres in the world – 298 TWh.
“Bitcoin’s direct energy consumption comes from three sources: the nodes that validate and relay transactions, the pools that coordinate miners’ activity across the world, and the mining machines. The overwhelming majority of Bitcoin’s energy consumption comes from operating mining machines, roughly 99.8%….There is no denying that the Bitcoin network consumes a substantial amount of energy, but this energy consumption is what makes the Bitcoin network so robust and secure.”
There are people in the world who would say that online gaming is a complete waste of energy (I’m not one of them). A billion hours of YouTube watched per day worldwide uses a lot of energy. Our current banking system which is failing billions of people worldwide uses a lot of energy. A handful of giant companies (Amazon, Facebook, and Google) are using a significant percentage of the world’s energy production.
You could argue that we don’t need Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies adding to the energy load on our world, but people who believe in the use cases of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies think they are absolutely essential to combat the one-way flow of money from us regular folks to the ultra-rich people in the world.
In my next blog I’ll examine the ways Bitcoin is using renewable energy to mine coins.
#6. CRYPTOCURRENCY IS NOT USED FOR ANYTHING OF VALUE
When discussions about cryptocurrencies come up, one of the things that is often said is that cryptocurrencies have no use in the real world. This is not accurate, and is becoming increasingly inaccurate as cryptocurrencies find more and more real-world uses.
Cryptocurrencies are used to bank the unbanked; all anyone needs to use cryptocurrency is a cellphone and an internet connection. A staggering amount of people in developing countries don’t have access to banks, but they do have cellphones. “Surveys conducted in 11 emerging and developing countries across four global regions find that the vast majority of adults in these countries own – or have access to – a mobile phone of some kind. And these mobile phones are not simply basic devices with little more than voice and texting capacity: A median of 53% across these nations now have access to a smartphone capable of accessing the internet and running apps.” – https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2019/03/07/mobile-connectivity-in-emerging-economies/
Cryptocurrencies are used to send remittances back home by expats with low fees, fast processing times, and low barriers to entry. Sending cryptocurrencies around the world takes minutes, and costs pennies. Some countries have a very high rate of people sending money back home – Tonga, for example, has a GDP that is made up of 39% remittances. “The IMF reports that Tonga received $191 million in remittances in 2019. These represented 39% of the country’s annual GDP.” – https://www.practicalethicsnews.com/the-most-remittance-reliant-countries-in-the-world/
Crypto games reward players in cryptocurrencies that can be converted to fiat currency. For example, players in the Philippines are living the dream and getting paid to play video games. “John Aaron Ramos, a 22-year old Filipino, revealed on social media that he has amassed enough profits playing Axie Infinity to purchase two homes in the Philippines.” – https://pinayteenvestor.com/axie-infinity-philippines/
You can earn real interest on your cryptocurrencies (known as “staking”), instead of the extremely low interest banks are paying. Some banks are actually charging you to deposit your money with them – for example, Denmark has negative interest rates at this point – https://danskebank.dk/en/personal/ratechange.
With cryptocurrencies, you can store your wealth in a form governments can’t seize, like they did in Cyprus in 2013. “On 25 March 2013, a €10 billion international bailout by the Eurogroup, European Commission (EC), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) was announced, in return for Cyprus agreeing to close the country’s second-largest bank, the Cyprus Popular Bank (also known as Laiki Bank), imposing a one-time bank deposit levy on all uninsured deposits there, and possibly around 48% of uninsured deposits in the Bank of Cyprus (the island’s largest commercial bank)…No insured deposit of €100,000 or less would be affected, though 47.5% of all bank deposits above €100,000 were seized.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012%E2%80%932013_Cypriot_financial_crisis
A lot of emphasis in the cryptoverse is placed on the price of coins and tokens to buy and sell them, but cryptocurrency has far-reaching implications beyond buying a coin on which to turn some quick profits.
There are many scams within the cryptocurrency universe, but Bitcoin itself is not likely a scam. When you buy bitcoin, the person selling it gets the money for it. When you sell bitcoin, you get the money for selling it. This is a very basic financial transaction.
Bitcoin is open and transparent. The code is open-source. The blockchain can be viewed by anyone. The blockchain itself is on all the computers that are running mining nodes. These are not the makings of a scam – scams hide in the darkness, keeping people seeing what they are doing.
Bitcoin is not making any promises about anything. There are people in the cryptocurrency world making promises and claims; these need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Some of the common claims people make about Bitcoin are price predictions; since no one can predict the future, I don’t think you can call Bitcoin a scam because some people make predictions.
One of the basic ideas of Bitcoin is that it is a trustless protocol – no one needs to trust anyone else for anything, because everything is determined and driven by code. This can be hard for people new to the cryptocurrency space to wrap their brains around. We are used to a system where there are a few institutions that are supposed to be trustworthy, and we are more-or-less forced to trust them (i.e. banks). Bitcoin starts from a place where no one trusts anyone else, and no one *has* to trust anyone else, because the code is looking after your interests.
Not having anything concrete to show for Bitcoin doesn’t make it a scam. There are billions of dollars made trading on “shorts” – betting that a stock will go up or down. As of 2013, The New York Stock Exchange had an average daily trading value of US$169 billion1, and no one in any of those trades received anything except a digital note in a digital ledger for their purchases or sales. We watch one billion hours of YouTube PER DAY in the world2 – this produces nothing but entertainment and education.
You can argue that any commodity not backed by a hard asset is a bubble (for example, the US dollar is backed by nothing, and hasn’t been backed by anything for 50 years).
Experts in Bitcoin suggest that it is not useful to use traditional finance benchmarks to measure Bitcoin’s success: “In contrast to how you might see Bitcoin discussed elsewhere, the assertion of this article is that a body of evidence has emerged suggesting the software has created a real – albeit misunderstood – economy, and that this economy is establishing itself, if slowly, within the global monetary order.” – https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterizzo/2021/03/04/the-bitcoin-bubble-myth/
“Bitcoin is not a stock, bond or government currency. It is an emergent scientific phenomena and it should be understood by applying the scientific method…. My belief is that in the coming months we will see Bitcoin’s price rise to new highs. When we do, we’ll have to ask ourselves if a software that has created the conditions for three “bubbles,” each exactly four years apart, can be said to be creating “bubbles” at all.”” – https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterizzo/2021/03/04/the-bitcoin-bubble-myth/
Bitcoin has spawned tens of thousands of other cryptocurrencies and blockchain projects, and is being used all over the world for various (legitimate) purposes, from tokenizing art and music, to creating a global system of remittances for ex-patriots to send money back home, to a store of value that resists inflation. It’s also been around and growing for 12 years – that’s a pretty long-lived novelty.
Volatility does not define how useful an investment is as a store of value. “As is evident, fiat currencies may be non-volatile in the short to mid-term, but they lose their purchasing power over the years. For example, the U.S. dollar has lost 86% of its purchasing power in the last 50 years. Hence, low volatility may not necessarily define a credible store of value. Similarly, high volatility does not make an asset an inadequate store of value.” – https://www.ledger.com/academy/the-curious-case-of-bitcoin-is-too-volatile
I think this single graphic might be the best argument against Bitcoin’s volatility. Bitcoin price from 2010 to current – steady, impressive growth.
“Jennifer Fowler, deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, claims that the U.S. dollar continues to remain a popular currency for illicit commerce and money laundering. She adds, though, that the Treasury is continually monitoring the use and development of new payment technologies, such as digital currencies. She said: “Although virtual currencies are used for illicit transactions, the volume is small compared to the volume of illicit activity through traditional financial services.”” – https://www.ccn.com/cryptocurrency-usage-in-illicit-activity-small-compared-to-usd-us-treasury-official/
Bad actors can and do use blockchain technology to do anti-social things. Most people engaged in the blockchain world are regular people who are fed up with the existing banking and financial systems that aren’t doing much for the average person. In my opinion, the “criminals use Bitcoin” narrative is meant to scare people away from the blockchain technologies that can benefit them financially.
You’ve probably heard that bitcoin mining is bad for the environment; statistics like bitcoin mining uses more energy than Argentina are tossed around. The Bitcoin community is very aware of this criticism, and has done research to relieve fears, and is on the cutting edge of technology to reduce energy consumption. Bitcoin miners are financially incentivized to keep the costs of the electricity for their mining rigs down to make more profit from mining.
Miners use renewable energy sources (up to 73% of bitcoin is mined using renewable sources).
Bitcoin encourages growth in renewable energy technologies. If someone can invent better renewable energy, cryptocurrencies will grab onto that tech with both hands.
“Stephen Pair, CEO of BitPay, told Karen Webster that bitcoin-related activity will drive renewable energy simply because it requires energy to process – and economics demand cheaper production, which leads naturally to an embrace of cost-efficient sources of electricity. It’s a virtuous cycle, in other words, where the adoption of bitcoin increases the adoption of renewables, and the adoption of renewables paves the way for a more widespread embrace of cryptos.” – https://www.pymnts.com/news/bitcoin-tracker/2021/bitpay-bitcoin-is-renewable-energy-catalyst/
Regular banking system and gold mining uses many times as much energy as Bitcoin. While it’s true that bitcoin and all cryptocurrencies are a much smaller niche market at this point, it would be an error to ignore how much energy regular banking uses.
“[A]s measured by electricity costs alone, Bitcoin is much more efficient than traditional banking and gold mining on a global scale. Traditional banking emits 1,368 Megatonnes (Mtoe) of carbon per year and gold mining emits 144 Mtoe. Bitcoin emits 61 million Mtoe, less than 5% and 45% of traditional banking and gold mining, respectively.” – https://ark-invest.com/articles/analyst-research/bitcoin-myths/
Bitcoin miners are incentivized to run their rigs on renewable energy and can use “waste” energy – run the rigs when other societal needs drop to low levels, like at night, or off of extra energy when solar or wind are producing more energy than is required.
Blockchain is the technology was invented in 1991 by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta. They invented a chain of blocks that was secured cryptographically so no one could change the timestamps on documents. Bitcoin is an application that is running on blockchain technology – blockchain and Bitcoin are not the same thing.
“In simple terms, Blockchain is a peer-to-peer distributed ledger that is secure and used to record transactions across many computers. The ledger’s contents can only be updated by adding another block linked to the previous block. It can also be envisioned as a peer-to-peer network running on top of the internet.” – https://101blockchains.com/history-of-blockchain-timeline/
Blockchain is a database running on many computers on a peer-to-peer network throughout the world, where transactions are created, recorded, and stored with no central authority to make decisions or regulations. Everyone can also see all the transactions on the blockchain – while transactions are pseudo-anonymous in that your name is not attached to your IP address, they are still public.
Bitcoin was created in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto as the first application based on blockchain technology. It is still unknown who Satoshi Nakamoto is, man, woman, or group. They released a famous white paper in 2009 (a white paper is an in-depth report about a specific topic) describing the basics of what Bitcoin was, what they expected it to be able to do, and the ideas of how they were planning to accomplish this. This white paper is readily available on the internet, and is worth a read of the surprisingly short eight pages. https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf
Bitcoin is the first decentralized cryptocurrency. Bitcoin has these unique characteristics: it is decentralized, the supply is hard-capped, it is censorship resistant, and it is immutable.
A cryptocurrency is a digital asset that is secured with strong encryption. Blockchains are an integral part of many cryptocurrencies.
Cryptocurrencies are built to be used as a medium of exchange where the ownership (and transfer of ownership) of all the assets (coins) are recorded on decentralized ledger databases.
Decentralized: Bitcoin is mined by people running computers (“mining rigs”) around the world who are solving a complex problem to mine a coin of bitcoin, and bitcoin is stored around the world in the computers that are running the Bitcoin software. It is accessed through the “wallets” of millions of people, and on dozens of exchanges. Bitcoin is created and controlled by everyone involved in its ecology; there is no one governing body. It is also described as peer-to-peer, with no central institution like a bank needing to be involved. Everyone can see all the transactions that have ever been done on the Bitcoin blockchain.
Supply is Hard-Capped: There is a limit to how much bitcoin will ever be mined, and that limit is 21 million coins (to be finished mining in 2140). This was built into the Bitcoin protocol from its beginning. Also, the reward (in coins) for bitcoin mining is halved every 210,000 blocks, which works out to about every four years. This was designed to keep bitcoin inflation in check. Everyone mining for bitcoin gets rewarded in coins at this point; when all the coins are mined, the reward for continuing to keep the nodes up and running will switch to a fee model. Contrast this to every government in the world that simply “creates” more money whenever it likes, which leads to inflation (in some cases, hyperinflation).
Censorship-Resistant: As long as one human had more stuff than another human, there has been seizure of property and wealth. Bitcoin is resistant to seizure, censorship, and control by any government or corporation because of its decentralization. Because it is a peer-to-peer network, there is no central authority for government agencies to set their sights on. Because every node in the Bitcoin blockchain has all the data, there is no one central database to be hacked or co-opted.
Immutable: The Bitcoin blockchain is considered immutable because every transaction is stored in a block that is linked to the previous block. Any changes to any block in the Bitcoin blockchain would be discovered immediately when one block in the network stopped matching the rest of the blocks in the network. It is theoretically possible to co-opt 51% plus of all the nodes in the network (known as a 51% Attack), but because the Bitcoin ledger is so complex, the computing power and expense of such an attack makes it a very high bar to success. Bitcoin is considered reliable and trustworthy because of this immutability – it (for all intents and purposes) cannot be changed, and it is transparent for everyone to see.