Most people probably don’t think energy sustainability is one of the most critical issues surrounding cryptocurrency. However, the truth is cryptocurrency generation and security can contribute to the worldwide energy crisis.
Ethereum — the company behind one of the most valued cryptocurrencies — wants to change that. They plan to accomplish this by implementing a more sustainable crypto security solution in an upgrade known as “The Merge.”
Cryptocurrency’s Sustainability Problem
Proof-of-work is a software algorithm used by blockchain companies to validate blocks of data. Blocks in a chain require a certain amount of computational power to produce, which cryptocurrency miners verify in a competition.
In this system, cryptocurrency miners compete with each other to solve arbitrary mathematical problems. The winner of each round is responsible for validating and adding the newest batch of data to the blockchain. After all data is added and validated, the other miners verify the winner’s work and the winner is awarded a prize.
While proof-of-work systems are a proven method of validating blockchain data, they come at the cost of being energy hungry. The calculating power necessary to perform proof-of-work computations can take 143 terawatt-hours a year. On average, that’s more than what most countries need for their power grid.
Cryptocurrency uses blockchain technology everywhere, from the supply chain industry to fishing and farming. As the sector expands, companies using proof-of-work software will require more energy to perform calculations on new blocks in the blockchain. With the enormous energy consumption comes a proportionally large amount of carbon emissions.
For example, Bitcoin’s harmful emissions have reached almost 200 million tons annually in the last thirteen years. That amount is greater than the entire country of Colombia in 2018. Virtually all these emissions can attribute to crypto miners working in a proof-of-work model.
With 76% of consumers as concerned about environmental issues as health issues, it’s no surprise that cryptocurrency’s energy usage is a public concern. Measures such as the Crypto Climate Accord and other private sector initiatives have been created to focus on reducing crypto’s carbon emissions.
What Is “The Merge?”
“The Merge” is an upgrade to Ethereum’s security architecture to reduce carbon emissions without compromising its current security standards. The key to achieving this is replacing their “proof-of-work” based security architecture with one called “proof-of-stake.”
Replacing proof-of-work software with proof-of-stake is the crux of Ethereum’s plan to reduce crypto’s harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Rather than using miners and energy-hungry calculations to validate each new block in a blockchain, proof-of-stake allows cryptocurrency owners to stake coins and create their own validation notes.
In crypto, the term “staking” refers to when owners pledge their coins to verify transactions. During this process, owners cannot use their coins for trading — however, they can unlock them at any time.
Proof-of-stake software chooses a validator node to review blocks that are ready to be processed. If the data in the blocks is correct, the validator is rewarded. However, if the validator tries to add a block with inaccurate information, they will lose some of their staked holdings.
While there are many advantages to proof-of-stake compared to proof-of-work, a few disadvantages keep it from becoming entirely accepted. One of the biggest ones is that validators with extensive holdings can significantly influence the validation process.
While the process of choosing validators is random, those with more considerable investments in cryptocurrency are more likely to be selected because they have more currency to stake. This can make it difficult for beginners and those with low holdings to get into the model to earn rewards, discouraging them from using the currency.
How Proof-of-Stake Makes Cryptocurrency More Sustainable?
While there are currently some limitations to the proof-of-stake model, one of the biggest reasons for switching is that it is far more energy efficient than proof-of-work. Proof-of-stake only requires a few validators operating at once, thus drastically lowering the computational power necessary to approve blocks.
The change in energy consumption is so significant that reports indicate Etherium’s annual electricity usage dropped by 99.98%. In addition, the company’s greenhouse gas emissions have accordingly dropped by 99.9%.
Because proof-of-stake does not require massive supercomputers and miners performing thousands of calculations daily, the energy necessary is considerably lower. Lower power needs also mean lower carbon emissions. This makes proof-of-stake the most sustainable model for cryptocurrency security. Ethereum also states that they have found no issues with security after switching to the proof-of-stake model — and that security has improved.
The First Step Towards Crypto Sustainability
Ethereum’s Merge is a momentous occasion for cryptocurrency. They have proven that the proof-of-stake model is not only as secure as proof-of-work but far more efficient when it comes to energy. Thanks to this, the cryptocurrency world has taken its first step towards energy sustainability and environmental friendliness. With time, more crypto organizations will hopefully follow Ethereum into a new age.