Blockchain is not eco-friendly. The cloud is. So how about blockchain in the cloud?
We have all heard stories of how much energy - and greenhouse gas emissions - blockchain is responsible for.
So it came as a surprise when the World Economic Forum published a report entitled “Building blockchains for a better planet”, outlining the many blockchain use-cases designed to help the environment. It claims the distributed ledger may enable next-generation monitoring, reporting, and even humanitarian relief.
Make no mistake here, blockchain’s impact on the environment has been, at least so far, unquestionably and astronomically negative. The latest calculations compare blockchain’s energy consumption to that of the countries of Slovenia, or Cuba; the actual yearly amount is around 70 TWh.
So it was easy for critics to dismiss the report, one saying that “the best thing blockchain can do to help the environment is to simply not exist."
Feeling guilty now thinking about using blockchain at your company or organisation? Well the environmental impact of such a decision is actually not that straightforward.
First of all, most calculations related to blockchain’s energy use focus solely on bitcoin, and its powerful (hence energy demanding) algorithm SHA-256. Your organisation can use a much, much more efficient consensus protocol and still enjoy most of the benefits associated with the distributed ledger.
For instance, we set up a private blockchain network using Quorum, an enterprise-focused version of Ethereum, using RAFT consensus protocol, and we achieved around 80 transactions per second using negligible CPU usage. Our servers, located around the world, are practically idle.
Second idea - move the blockchain servers to the cloud. We located our servers in several cloud providers. The cloud is not only more cost effective and less rigid, it’s also a great ecological feat. There are several reasons why, and they quickly add up.
Cloud providers build extremely energy efficient data centres and generate their own green energy. They virtualise loads across many servers to keep them fully utilised. They also benefit from a variety of economies of scale including sharing large parts of the supporting infrastructure for networking, security, monitoring, management, and backup across many customers.
So it’s clear that as far as mother Earth is concerned, the cloud is where you need to be with any application or workload. As for blockchain’s carbon footprint, well, it depends. It does demand energy, but there are ways to run it efficiently. And the “technology of truth” may indeed prove to be a useful platform for various green projects.
After all, no one will save our planet alone. A “distributed consensus” among people will be needed. Do those words sound familiar?
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