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Expand chart
Adapted from an IEA chart; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

A new International Energy Agency analysis provides a useful look at a tricky problem: tracking the energy consumed by digital Bitcoin "mining" to process transactions.

Why it matters: Growing use of cryptocurrencies is spurring fears that power-sucking hardware and data centers (and associated cooling and lighting) will make it even harder to fight global warming. The IEA primer is a helpful comparison of the conflicting estimates piling up and offers some big takeaways on Bitcoin energy use: Yes, it's a substantial amount and, no, it's not the apocalypse at all.

What they did: IEA analyst George Kamiya looked at one widely used estimate on the higher end, which is Digiconomist's Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index.

  • He then offers a more conservative "benchmark," which assumes use of the efficient Antminer S9 hardware but does not factor in cooling and lighting, and then plots where various studies fall.

By the numbers: The IEA analysis estimates that Bitcoin mining consumed around 45 terawatt hours (TWh) last year, but it's on track to be "much higher" this year.

  • For a sense of scale, IEA estimates that global electricity demand overall grew by 900 TWh last year.
  • But Kamiya also cites analyses showing much of the mining is in countries with lots of renewable electricity or in renewables-heavy regions of China.

The bottom line: Don't panic!

But, but, but: Bitcoin energy use is growing, and it's just one cryptocurrency. Even there, estimates vary considerably, there are competing methods, and it's not a static thing either.

  • The amount changes depending on the rate of mining and equipment used.
  • Looking forward, there are variables around efficiency of the mining tech, where data centers are located and what powers them.

What's next: "While these early estimates provide a rough indication of bitcoin energy use today, it is clear that researchers need more data, in particular from mining facilities, to develop more rigorous methodologies and accurate estimates," Kamiya writes.

Go deeper: No, Bitcoin won't destroy our climate by 2033

Go deeper

48 mins ago - World

In photos: Students evacuated as wildfire burns historic Cape Town buildings

Firefighters try, in vain, to extinguish a fire in the Jagger Library, at the University of Cape Town, after a forest fire came down the foothills of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, on Sunday. Photo: Rodger Bosch/AFP via Getty Images

A massive wildfire spread from the foothills of Table Mountain to the University of Cape Town Sunday, burning historic South African buildings and forcing the evacuation of 4,000 students, per Times Live.

The big picture: Visitors to the Table Mountain National Park and other nearby attractions were also evacuated and several roads including a major highway, were closed. South Africa's oldest working windmill and the university's Jagger Library, which houses SA antiquities, are among the buildings damaged.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

3 killed, 2 wounded overnight in Kenosha bar shooting

Three people died and two others were hospitalized with serious injuries after a gunman entered bar in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, the police department said in a statement on Sunday.

The latest: Officers arrested a "person of interest" Sunday afternoon in connection with the 12:42 a.m. shooting and there's "no threat to the community at this time," per a later police statement.

Updated 2 hours ago - Sports

Big European soccer teams announce breakaway league

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (L) after striking the ball during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match between Liverpool F.C. and Real Madrid at Anfield in Liverpool, England, last Wednesday. Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

12 of world soccer's biggest and richest clubs announced Sunday they've formed a breakaway European "Super League" — with clubs Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona Real Madrid, Juventus and A.C. Milan among those to sign up.

Why it matters: The prime ministers of the U.K. and Italy are among those to express concern at the move — which marks a massive overhaul of the sport's structure and finances, and it effectively ends the decades-old UEFA Champions League's run as the top tournament for European soccer.

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