In the late 1990s, some experts were concerned that by 2010, half of the U.S. electrical grid would be dedicated to powering the internet, a claim that nearly caused a panic. That proved to be more than a little overblown, as researcher Jonathan Koomey and his team at the Berkeley Lab showed at the time.

They then proved themselves correct again in an August 2011 study that concluded that data centers consumed less than 2 percent of the country’s electricity. Koomey, a lecturer at Stanford, is now concerned that the same false alarm is ringing once again.

This time, the shiny object is Bitcoin and the energy used to “mine” the digital currency. The latest spotlight on the conversation came from a study published Wednesday that was produced by Dutch researcher Alex de Vries, who concluded that the Bitcoin network consumes nearly as much electricity as the nation of Ireland.

Koomey finds that assertion more than a little problematic. “For two decades, people have been eager to overestimate electricity use by computing,” Koomey said.

“My concern is that we simply don’t have adequate data to come to the strong conclusions that he’s coming to.” De Vries estimates that the Bitcoin network consumes “at least 2.55 gigawatts of electricity currently, and potentially 7.67 gigawatts in the future.” “Economic models tell us that Bitcoin’s electricity consumption will gravitate toward the latter number,” comparable with Austria, which consumes 8.2 gigawatts, de Vries writes. “A look at Bitcoin miner production estimates suggests that this number could already be reached in 2018.” De Vries is not alone in warning about Bitcoin’s appetite for gigawatts. Read more from…

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