As bitcoin has grown in popularity, China has become a mecca for the technology. If China’s bitcoin industry were a country, its total energy consumption would have ranked 12th globally in 2016, ahead of major economies like Italy and Saudi Arabia, according to the study. With specialized hardware and cheap electricity readily available, the country now accounts for more than 75% of the bitcoin network’s hashing power — the power a computer or hardware uses to run and solve algorithms that generate new cryptocurrency sums and allow transactions between them.
“Since the bitcoin mining industry is so new, it has not been properly accounted for and regulated around the world,” Shouyang Wang, a co-author of the study and professor at Chinese Academy of Sciences, told CNN Business.
Bitcoin mining hardware has evolved as the cryptocurrency’s popularity has increased over time. At its inception, bitcoin mining went through a basic Central Processing Unit (CPU) on a general-purpose computer, the study’s authors say.
The process then evolved and shifted to Graphic Processing Units (GPUs), which offered more power, higher hash rates and ultimately led to more energy consumption. Eventually, Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) were introduced to optimize the mining-related calculations.
The growth of these emissions could have massive implications for the entire planet.
“It is important to provide miners with incentives to move their operations to clean-energy regions,” Wang said. “That is why building and upgrading the clean-energy power generation facilities to ensure consistent electricity generation is important.”