How to Make Proof of Work Blockchains Become Energy Efficient, Sustainable

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The world is currently experiencing the effects of climate change with record-high temperatures already causing thousands of deaths. In fact, according to the World Health organization, if climate change is not mitigated, it will result in 250,000 additional deaths every year from 2030 to 2050 just from undernutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress alone. 

This is why efforts to curb climate change are intensifying, and rightly so. With many national and international initiatives that now monitor and control the emission of greenhouse gasses, the most prevalent and dangerous of which is carbon dioxide, it is not surprising that emerging technologies are being scrutinized for their carbon footprint.

Blockchain technology has been experiencing rapid adoption over the past couple of years due to it having the capacity to become an efficient base layer on which other emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), the metaverse and WEB3, can be built on. Hence, its energy efficiency and sustainability are currently the focus of many environmental and government agencies at national and international levels.

This is because most blockchains use the Proof of Work consensus mechanism that consumes an extraordinary amount of electricity, which is then a cause of concern due to its massive carbon footprint. In March this year, the University of Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF) released a study that estimated that the BTC Blockchain has an annual energy consumption of between 62 and 209 terawatt hours (TWh).

The minimum amount is actually equivalent to how much Alegeria consumes yearly, while the maximum is equal to that of South Africa’s annual energy consumption. However, Proof of Work is crucial to the decentralization, security and general efficiency of a blockchain; and so, changing it will only create a digital ledger that is largely inept and expensive. It will not be a blockchain anymore, just a digital ledger.

Relying on renewable energy sources may be used to decrease blockchain’s carbon footprint. But their voltage and frequency tend to fluctuate, so this option is actually not feasible at present. When electrical output of renewable energy becomes stable in the future, then, they certainly will be able to help further make Proof of Work blockchains sustainable. 

For now, there is actually a much better solution to ensure that blockchains become energy efficient—and that is to continuously scale them to meet market demands. A scalable blockchain enables the constant increase of block size and throughput as measured in transactions per second (TPS), while lowering down transaction fees to the barest of minimum. 

This, then, considerably reduces Proof of Work blockchains’ carbon footprint. How exactly? Because a blockchain’s energy consumption is measured against its transaction capacity, the higher the number of transactions a blockchain is able to process, the lower its carbon footprint will be.

For instance, a carbon footprint of network protocols updated daily shows that the unscalable BTC Blockchain emits 49.7395kg CO2 per transaction, while scalable BSV Blockchain only leaves behind a mere 0.2082kg CO2/txn. This is because while BTC Blockchain processes 1MB blocks and seven TPS, the BSV Blockchain is already completing 4GB blocks and 50,000 to 100,000 TPS.

And these numbers will only increase as the network scales. This is why a scalable blockchain becomes more energy efficient and can continuously lower its carbon footprint, which not only effectively increases energy efficiency and sustainability, but also makes it a more practical solution to digital problems.

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