The energy cost of Google and Bitcoin

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

“The Cloud” is such a wonderful, soft and harmless term; what could be more pristine and fluffy? We love the idea of our wifi and web searches being clean, transparent and untraceable. None of that is true.

In a perfect world, our data would be stored – and intersecting with other data – in some beautific and clean place. If only that were true.

These server farms which process our data (with diesel back-up systems) are vast, energy-consuming and ugly.

They are being monitored by the Washington State Department of Ecology (https://ecology.wa.gov/Air-Climate/Air-quality/Data-Centers)

Bitcoin mining consumes at least as much electricity in a year as all of Ireland (about 24 TWh). Worse still, bitcoin’s energy use is doubling every six months and could reach the annual consumption of the Czech Republic (about 67 TWh) before the end of 2018, which would be about 0.3% of the world’s electricity consumption. And it won’t stop there.

Check out the energy-gulping cost of bitcoin  – and your internet addiction here -  https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/05/new-study-quantifies-bitcoins-ludicrous-energy-consumption/ or https://www.forbes.com/sites/shermanlee/2018/04/19/bitcoins-energy-consumption-can-power-an-entire-country-but-eos-is-trying-to-fix-that/#44a255ab1bc8.

And if you thought a Google search was without its impact, think again. Google uses as much energy as it would take to power 200,000 houses continually (https://inhabitat.com/infographic-how-much-energy-does-google-use/).

Cushman Tower Photo by Morf Morford

Cushman Tower
Photo by Morf Morford

You really do not want to know how much energy is required for your internet search – but if you do want to know, you can see the grisly reality here – https://www.fastcodesign.com/90171268/internet_impact_visualized.

The formerly sleepy rural towns of Eastern Washington have become an epicenter for these industrial energy farms (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/03/09/bitcoin-mining-energy-prices-smalltown-feature-217230).

“Clean coal” has always been a fantastical idea, but even “clean” electricity is something like a mythological beast.

We in Washington state have been proud of our reliance on hydropower instead of coal (though we do use some, but less every year – https://www.nrdc.org/stories/washington-coal-fired-power-plant-will-put-its-money-sun).

But hydropower is far from perfect. From water usage to salmon runs, our dams have a whole other set of repercussions.

For your mental health and for the sake of the energy grid, put down your phone, look away from the screen, take a walk and look at some actual clouds.