Does bitcoin use less energy than Christmas lights? Fact-checking a dubious claim

Charles Arthur
8 min readJun 9, 2022
Photo by Joetography LLC on Flickr. CC-BY-SA licenced.

If there’s one thing that bitcoin enthusiasts are a mite touchy about, it’s people pointing out that their favoured product uses a colossal amount of electricity every day in the pursuit of printing a winning lottery ticket. (That is the essential boiled-down version of what bitcoin mining is; part of that process also verifies blockchain transactions, but the mining is the principal reason people run their own systems.)

The more people are mining, the more difficult it becomes to mine a bitcoin. This is built into the system: the more successful bitcoin becomes (in terms of miners trying to print — well, calculate — a lottery ticket), the more energy has to be used to mine a new coin.

Thus when the DigiEconomist Twitter account occasionally points out the self-evident fact of this reality, people get upset. This happened the other day.

Of course, if you know bitcoin’s premise, that’s obvious. Capacity isn’t going to go up, because you can’t change how many bitcoins are produced (except through the “halvenings” that come along every couple of years). But if the price is higher, more people will try to get the golden ticket. So the bitcoin network’s energy use will go up.

But it upsets boosters to hear this. And so they will respond with a touch of whataboutery: what about the energy used by [x]?

In this instance, the reply was a classic of the genre.

(Just in case the tweet vanishes for some reason, it’s a continuation of an earlier tweet, whose last sentence says “In addition, what’s the problem with using energy if… it’s from renewable sources? Bitcoin mining has one of the greenest energy mixes of any industry.

Charles Arthur

Tech journalist; author of “Social Warming: how social media polarises us all” and two others. The Guardian’s Technology editor 2005–14. Speaker, moderator.