SAN FRANCISCO — Creating a new Bitcoin requires electricity. A lot of it.
In the virtual currency world this creation process is called “mining.” There is no physical digging, since Bitcoins are purely digital. But the computer power needed to create each digital token consumes at least as much electricity as the average American household burns through in two years, according to figures from Morgan Stanley and Alex de Vries, an economist who tracks energy use in the industry.
The total network of computers plugged into the Bitcoin network consumes as much energy each day as some medium-size countries — which country depends on whose estimates you believe. And the network supporting Ethereum, the second-most valuable virtual currency, gobbles up another country’s worth of electricity each day.
The energy consumption of these systems has risen as the prices of virtual currencies have skyrocketed, leading to a vigorous debate among Bitcoin and Ethereum enthusiasts about burning so much electricity.
The creator of Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, is leading an experiment with a more energy-efficient way to create tokens, in part because of his concern about the impact that the network’s electricity use could have on global warming.