Mining crypto currency. Farm for mining bitcoins. Vector flat illustration

A new study by cryptocurrency exchange BitMex reveals that bitcoin mining revenues fell by more than half in November.

At the beginning of the month, daily mining revenues were at $13 million. By the end of the month, that figure had fallen to just $6 million. The news comes after the bitcoin price collapsed by 36% in November.

The fall in prices means a lower incentive for miners, who are rewarded with bitcoin for keeping the system running.

The BitMex study also noted a 13% reduction in hash rate (a measure of computer power dedicated to the bitcoin blockchain). That’s the equivalent of 1.3 million Bitmain S9 miners going offline.

bitcoin hashrate
Bitcoin hash rate 2018

The Good News

With miners switching off their machines, there’s less competition. It should, theoretically, become more profitable to mine bitcoin with fewer miners competing on the network.

We have also just seen two major shifts in bitcoin “difficulty.” The Bitcoin algorithm is designed to readjust itself every two weeks (roughly) to compensate for the volume of miners. 

The difficulty fell 7.4% on 16th November and 15.1% on 3rd December. These adjustments make it easier to mine bitcoin, thereby re-incentivizing miners.

Further reading: What is Proof of Work? – The Bitcoin Algorithm

Should We Worry?

Probably not. The fall in revenue is likely to knock out miners in regions where electricity is expensive. However, there are plenty of places around the world where mining is more affordable thanks to low energy prices.

We should also point out that most miners adopt a long-term strategy. As blockchain expert Andreas Antonopoulos explains: 

“Miners have a much more long-term perspective, meaning that they have existing investments in equipment and they usually purchase electricity on long-term plans, they don’t pay it by the week. And therefore, if they have to wait to become profitable another three months and they have the equipment in place, they’re not turning it off.”

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Bitcoin death spiral

A version of this article first appeared in our exclusive newsletter. If you’d like Block Explorer’s cutting-edge analysis before it hits our website, sign up now.

Sigh.

Another day, another slew of negative, fear-inducing, factually-inaccurate cryptocurrency reporting in the mainstream media.

The focus of my wrath is this article in Market Watch, titled Bitcoin is Close to Becoming Worthless.

Written by a professor of finance, it carries some weight.

But it’s also wrong on many technical levels.

The author’s basic claim is this:

With the price of bitcoin dropping, bitcoin mining has now become unprofitable.

If mining produces no profits, he says, miners will abandon the network. It will grind to a halt and bitcoin will become worthless. This phenomenon is known as the “bitcoin death spiral.”

Here’s why he’s wrong…

It’s true that bitcoin mining is currently unprofitable (we reported as much recently). However, the Bitcoin system is designed to adapt and morph to account for this.

It does so by altering the “difficulty” of mining.

This gets a little technical but bear with me.

Bitcoin Mining Background

In very simple terms, bitcoin miners process transactions in “blocks” by using extensive computer power.

That computer power directed towards the Bitcoin network is known as hash power. When lots of miners are working on the network, the hash rate goes up.

One Block Every Ten Minutes

The system is designed to produce one block every ten minutes.

Everything else being equal, if miners throw more computer power at the network, blocks will be produced faster. 

Too fast, actually. Miners get a reward (in bitcoin) for every block they produce. If blocks are produced too quickly, too much bitcoin is released.

That’s where the self-adjusting algorithm comes in.

When hash power is high, the algorithm automatically adjusts to make it more difficult to mine a block, slowing down production to meet the ten-minute block target.

The Problem Today

The problem we face currently is that miners are leaving the network. Some mining facilities are closing and throwing away equipment.

Hash power on the network is now lower, but the difficulty remains somewhat high.

In other words, the remaining miners have to work incredibly hard (using much more computer power) to produce the same block – hence the lack of profitability.

The “Difficulty” Just Readjusted

But it works both ways. With fewer miners contributing hash power, the algorithm will automatically adjust to make it easier and ultimately return to profitability.

That readjustment happened this week, with Bitcoin’s difficulty dropping 15%. 

Every Two Weeks

Bitcoin’s difficulty is set to re-adjust after every 2016 blocks (roughly every two weeks).

The “death spiral” is only possible if block production slows down so much that we don’t make it to the next difficulty adjustment.

Worst Case Scenario

If that reality plays out, there’s another option.

Bitcoin could execute a “hard fork” and form a new blockchain where the difficulty is lower.

Still confused? This tweet from Nic Carter sums it up quite neatly.

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As blockchain expert Andreas Antonopoulos explains: “The chances of [a death spiral] actually happening are pretty low. The chances of it happening and nobody doing anything to fix it is near zero.”

So, as usual, the mainstream and financial media are blowing things out of proportion without explaining the full picture or technical background of bitcoin. 

Intrigued? Here are some more resources:

Proof of Work Explained: How Cryptocurrencies Keep Block Production in Check (Block Explorer)

Bitcoin Difficulty Targeting and the “Death Spiral” (Andreas Antonopoulos video)

A version of this article first appeared in our exclusive newsletter. If you’d like Block Explorer’s cutting-edge analysis before it hits our website, sign up now.

bitcoin mining energy consumption

It’s a tough time to launch bitcoin mining hardware. As Block Explorer recently reported, bitcoin mining profits turned negative earlier this year. Not only that, but pressure is building over the energy consumption and environmental impact of bitcoin mining.

But that hasn’t stopped Bitmain, the world’s largest bitcoin mining company, from building the next-generation mining equipment.

Bitmain’s new ASIC miners are set to launch Thursday 8th November, but will they reduce energy consumption?

ASIC explained: ASIC miners, or Application Specific Integrated Circuits, are super-powerful processing chips that focus on just one task, in this case, cryptocurrency mining. They are different to normal graphics cards or computer chips which are multi-purpose.

Everything we know about the new Bitmain ASIC Miners

Bitmain is launching two new devices on Thursday: the S15 and T15

Specific details, however, are sparse. We don’t yet know the price, features, or specs of the two devices.

Bitmain has only eluded to the launch via a tweet and empty product pages

Will the new Bitmain Miner Reduce Energy Consumption?

Bitmain’s co-founder and CEO Jihan Wu revealed some information about the forthcoming technology in a speech in September.

He suggested the new miners would “achieve a ratio of energy consumption to mining capacity that is as low as 42J/TH.”

To put that in perspective, Bitmain’s current top-of-the-range miner (Antminer-S9) runs at 96J/TH. In other words, the new miners are significantly more energy efficient than its predecessors.

The current Bitmain Antminer S9

Environmental Impact of Bitcoin Mining

The news comes in the same week as a new research paper which claims bitcoin mining is three-times as expensive as mining the same value of gold.

A further study suggests bitcoin mining consumes the equivalent amount of energy as the entire country of Austria.

The new Bitmain miners may go a small way to lowering the very real impact of bitcoin mining on the world around us. 

7nm Chip Technology

The extra efficiency comes from Bitmain’s new 7nm chip technology. As explained by Jihan Wu, the 7nm Finfet technology is more powerful and more efficient than before. With “more than a billion transistors,” it ushers in a “new era of high-efficiency.”

Of course, nothing is confirmed until Bitmain reveals the full specifications of the new models. Expect more details when the miners are made available for purchase tomorrow.

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China destroy bitcoin

Welcome to the weekend, folks. Grab a coffee and let’s recap the biggest news stories of the week in cryptocurrency and blockchain.

China Has “Capability” and “Motive” to Destroy Bitcoin, According to Report

A new report this week claims China could destroy Bitcoin. The report, authored by researchers at Princeton University and Florida International University outlines 19 different ways China could attack the Bitcoin network.

Is it based in truth?

Theoretically, yes. The report points to the fact that 74% of Bitcoin mining hash power comes from China. And five of the six largest Bitcoin mining pools are located in the country.

bitcoin mining pools

If those mining pools collectively orchestrated a 51% attack, they would control the network, and bring it down if they wish.

However, it’s important to point out that the Chinese government doesn’t own these mining pools. And the mining pools themselves have little incentive to execute a 51% attack (it would kill the value of bitcoin, making their efforts worthless).

What is concerning is the level of Bitcoin centralization in China.

The report goes on to explain how China’s “Great Firewall” appears to give Chinese miners an advantage. It slows down miners outside China and incentivizes those within the firewall to generate “empty blocks” (the blocks contain no transactions, but the miner receives a bitcoin reward anyway).

This, coupled with cheap electricity in China, is centralizing mining power in one country. And that’s a problem.

Note: the report in question has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Venezuela Is Forcing Citizens to Use Its Controversial Cryptocurrency to Buy Passports

As Venezuela’s fiat currency, the bolivar, soars towards 1,000,000% inflation, the government is putting its faith in a state cryptocurrency, petro.

Venezuela petro cryptocurrency

The petro was created by the Venezuelan government and its value is backed by the country’s oil price to keep it stable. Citizens are now required to pay for passports and renewals using only the petro cryptocurrency.

But the petro isn’t without controversy. Its creators have been accused of ripping off the Dash whitepaper. The US government has also accused Venezuela of using the petro to defraud investors, and critics say the petro pre-sale didn’t generate nearly as much as the Venezuelan government claims.

Cryptocurrencies Pose No Risk to Global Financial Stability

In somewhat brighter news, a report this week concluded that cryptocurrencies are not a risk to the global financial system.

The report carries some weight. It was released by the Financial Stability Board and is backed by the Bank for International Settlements, the world’s oldest financial institution.

However, it does go on to say there may be a tipping point in the future.

If they continue to grow, the report claims, cryptocurrencies may one day pose a threat to the reputation of current banks and financial systems. There may be a risk of exposure if traditional banks adopt crypto on a wider scale.

And there may be risky consequences if bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies become a common payment method.

Price News

The cryptocurrency market suffered an epic $16 billion wipeout on Thursday. It took place in just a few hours, dragging bitcoin down 4%.

bitcoin price
Chart: Coinmarketcap.com

As usual, altcoins bore the worst of the fall. Ethereum, XRP, and others fell in the region of 10%.

That’s all for this week. We’ll be back bright and early on Monday.

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bitcoin mining profitability

Bitcoin mining has become drastically less profitable this year, despite soaring revenues. What’s behind this dip in profitability? Block Explorer editor Ben Brown explores.

New research from Diar reveals that Bitcoin mining has generated record revenues of almost $5 billion so far this year. That’s already higher than 2017 with three months to go.

However, that revenue hasn’t translated into profit.

High energy costs and increased competition in the space means the average bitcoin miner is struggling to make a profit.

In fact, September marked the first month when bitcoin mining became unprofitable for anyone paying retail prices for electricity.

Worryingly, this means bitcoin mining will increasingly be dominated by the “deep pockets” of mining corporations like Bitmain.

bitcoin mining profits infographic
Credit: Genesis Mining

Mining a Bitcoin Costs More Than Buying One

According to further data by Fundstrat, it currently costs $7,300 to mine one bitcoin.

Yet, we can go to Coinbase and buy one bitcoin for less than that – $6,600 at the time of writing.

To come up with its $7,300 figure, Fundstrat takes into account a $4,000 energy fee (at $0.06 kW/h) and $3,300 for equipment, wear-and-tear and other overheads.

So what makes bitcoin mining currently so unprofitable?

More Mining Competition Than Ever

Despite the bitcoin bear market, mining activity is stronger than ever. Bitcoin’s hash power has doubled since May, which means more and more miners are competing to generate Bitcoin blocks.

Hash rate explained: In order to generate a bitcoin block, miners compete to solve mathematical puzzles. The first to solve the puzzle with computational power generates the block and receives the bitcoin reward. The total number of attempts to solve the puzzle per second is called hash rate. The more miners working to solve the puzzle, the higher the hash rate.

The hash rate hit a record high in August. In other words, there are more miners working to generate bitcoin blocks than ever before.

bitcoin hash rate chart
Chart from: Blockchain.com

More competition means each miner requires more energy and computer power to generate a bitcoin block.

Energy Rates are Choking Mining Profits

Because miners need more and more energy to compete, electricity prices are choking their profits.

Diar estimates that anyone paying a retail energy price of $0.10 kW/h can no longer make a profit on bitcoin mining.

Add that to overhead costs such as equipment, rent, and salaries, and you begin to see why profits are declining.

It’s no surprise that 81% of bitcoin’s hashing power originates in China. That’s because energy rates are relatively lower – an average of $0.08 kW/h at retail price.

Bitcoin Mining: Dominated by “Deep Pockets”

Energy prices are even lower when bought at wholesale prices, which only large mining pools can afford to do.

In other words, the dominance in bitcoin mining will shift more and more towards big companies like Bitmain. Bitmain owns two of the largest bitcoin mining pools and commands up to 75% of the world market for mining equipment.

As you can see in the chart, bitcoin mining is already dominated by a small number of pools (Bitmain owns BTC.com and Antpool. At one point in June, Bitmain edged close to 51% of bitcoin hashrate).

bitcoin mining pools chart
Chart from: Coin.dance

With bitcoin prices in a bear market, hash rates at a record high, and fierce competition, miners are increasingly incentivized to join larger mining pools.

And here’s where it interesting. The vast majority of Bitmain’s revenue comes from selling mining equipment (95%). So it’s in Bitmain’s interest to keep bitcoin mining profitable for its miners, wherever they are in the world.

Since Bitmain can purchase cheap energy wholesale in China, where it owns 11 giant mining facilities, it can offset the more expensive mining costs in, say, the US. Bitmain can therefore lure miners to a larger pool by offering more security.

Big Companies Can Afford to Take a Short-Term Hit

The profitability issue is also linked to the fact that bitcoin is at a significantly lower price today than it was in January, offering a lower return. Companies like Bitmain can afford to play the long game, betting on higher profitability when the crypto market turns around.

By that point, Bitmain will have swallowed up more miners and increased its market share.

This all means that power, dominance, and control over bitcoin mining will shift yet further to just small group of mining pools.

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