Bitcoin Mining: The Past, The Present, and What’s Next?by@emmanuelaj
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Bitcoin Mining: The Past, The Present, and What’s Next?

by Emmanuel AjalaJanuary 29th, 2024
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Let's discuss the changes that moved Bitcoin mining from zero to an over $2 billion industry in 15 years.

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On January 3, 2009, Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin,  mined the Genesis block.

At that time, nothing special happened. In retrospect, the day marked the beginning of a new era.

On that fateful day, a new industry emerged, and a new technology evolved. Overall, It’s a starting point for the dramatic transformation of the world’s financial system.

Although Bitcoin mining isn’t Satoshi Nakamoto’s (the creator of Bitcoin) main focus, it’s a significant part that continues to sustain the Bitcoin network over the years.

According to Precedence Research, the market size of the crypto-mining industry has grown significantly over the years. As of 2023, the industry's market size is around $2.17 billion. It’s projected to grow to around $7 billion by 2033.

However, in 2009, Satoshi, as the only miner on the network, effectively mined Bitcoin with his general-purpose personal computer. But currently, the industry has undergone significant growth, and it’s no longer efficient to mine Bitcoin with your personal computer.

Of course, a lot has changed in the Bitcoin mining industry. A lot of enthralling things have happened over 15 years. Here, we’ll discuss the changes that moved Bitcoin mining from zero to an over $2 billion industry in 15 years.

Before that, we'll briefly discuss what Bitcoin mining is. Without much ado, what’s Bitcoin mining?

What is Bitcoin mining?

Simply put, Bitcoin mining is the process of minting new bitcoin. Just think about precious metal miners extracting gold from the earth. Bitcoin mining is the process of validating and appending new blocks to the Bitcoin blockchain. To do this, Bitcoin miners generate cryptographic solutions that match certain criteria.

The primary purpose of Bitcoin mining is to verify the correctness of transactions in a block, therefore maintaining the integrity of the blockchain. Newly minted bitcoins are rewards for solving the complex computational and technological process required to validate transactions and append new blocks.

Bitcoin miners need to invest energy to create Bitcoin. But unlike precious metal mining, the energy expounded is in the form of electrical energy. Miners compete against each other to solve complex cryptographically encoded hash puzzles to verify blocks. The first miner to solve this problem gets the chance to update the Bitcoin blockchain and receive a reward for the work done.

In Bitcoin mining, the more powerful a computer you have, the more guesses you can make per second and the more chances you have at solving the problem and winning a block.

Bitcoin mining: The Past

1. The Days of Humble Beginning

On January 3, 2009, Satoshi Nakamoto mined the first Bitcoin block using his/her/their personal computer, like the one I’m currently using to write.

As the only miner on the network, Satoshi didn’t need specialized equipment to solve the complex hash puzzle required to create a block.

A general-purpose computer usually contains a central processing unit (CPU), which controls how commands are processed and executed. Since there are no other miners on the network, the computational energy required to create new blocks and earn mining rewards could be processed by CPU devices.

2. The Era of GPUs and FPGAs

A little after a year since the first Bitcoin block was mined, on 10th October, 2010, the first GPU (Graphic Processing Unit) miners were introduced. Unlike CPUs, GPUs are designed for games and are optimized to perform advanced computation tasks for generating several thousand time-sensitive image pixels.

Image by Tamim Kahn via Flickr

Although GPUs were not primarily designed for Bitcoin mining, they were reprogrammed to perform the computational tasks required to mine new bitcoins. These specialized processing units are designed to compute simple math operations in parallel rather than once at a time — like in CPUs. GPU makes Bitcoin mining 6X more efficient than using CPUs, and it only costs roughly twice as much as CPUs.

In a bid to find more efficient devices to solve the computational hash puzzles, the power of GPUs were soon overshadowed by the Introduction of FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) in 2011. FPGAs are highly customizable, highly efficient devices and can compute the computational operations required for mining Bitcoin twice as fast as the highest-grade GPU.

These devices allow miners to reprogram the hardware specifically to the requirement of the mining process. Unlike GPUs and CPUs, FPGAs are labor-intensive and require customization on both the software and hardware layers.

3. The Introduction of ASICs

Until 2013, Bitcoin was mined with tools built for different purposes but reprogrammed to mine Bitcoin. In 2013, Canaan Creative, a China-based hardware manufacturer, released the first ASICs (Application Specific integrated circuits).

Image by Daniel Oberhaus via Flickr

This device changed the course of Bitcoin mining. ASICs, unlike the other devices used before, were designed ground-up to solve mathematical hash computations to mine Bitcoin.

This groundbreaking equipment offers incomparable/unfettered efficiency and computational power. The introduction of ASICs changed the course of history. The Bitcoin network’s hashing power increased significantly on-ward, and individual bitcoin miners find it difficult to succeed as a standalone miner.

Over the years since 2013, the mining pool has become popularized. Even though the Slush pool has been available since 2010, miners started pooling their resources together and sharing rewards based on their contributions. This changed the way mining is conducted today.

4. Institutional Investors and Environmentalist Got Interested

As the industry matured and the price of bitcoin skyrocketed, institutional investors piqued interest in Bitcoin mining. Deep-pocketed investors took advantage of economies of scale and areas with cheap electricity to build mining farms that house large arrays of ASICs like the one below.

Image by Peter Thompson via Flickr

Over the years, while the growth remains unprecedented, the talk about the environmental impact of Bitcoin also continues to gain traction. Talks about the amount of electricity required for Bitcoin mining and powering mining farms became a thing of concern. Debates about the sustainability of the industry were common.

However, over the years, a lot of innovative processes to address the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining were introduced. For example:

  • Miners started seeking out locations with cheap and renewable energy sources for sustainability. For example, Iceland saw an influx of mining farms because of its abundance of hydro and geothermal energy. And it’s the favorable cold climate that would help reduce the cost of cooling the mining devices.

  • Also, upgrades on mining software and hardware became popular. Mining tools were upgraded, while firmware and software were optimized for optimal performance. More granular control over factors like voltage, clock speed, and heat generation was implemented to manage energy consumption.

Bitcoin mining: The Present

The Bitcoin mining industry has significantly evolved over the past 15 years and shows no sign of stopping.

Since the introduction of mining pools and farms, there have been concerns about centralization, which is against the vision of Satoshi Nakamoto.

The introduction of decentralized mining pools helps maintain the vision of Satoshi Nakamoto to build a financial system with no centralized control. Miners were able to reduce the risk of centralization associated with mining pools and farms.

Moreover, the industry has become more mature. As a collaborative effort to promote a sustainable mining process, the Bitcoin mining council was created . The council has been working on creating standardized energy reporting and encouraging the adoption of renewable energy.

Also, the introduction of protocols like Stratum V2 also advanced the industry in a bid to counter the centralization of mining power, which could lead to risk of censorship and network security. Stratum V2 protocol improved communication between miners and pool operators.

With Stratum V2 upgrades, miners have the freedom to decide to choose which transactions to include in their blocks or not. It reduces the miner's dependencies on 3rd parties (in this case, pool operators). Apart from countering centralization, the protocol enables bandwidth optimization, error correction, and better data encryption.

The fight to counter centralization in Bitcoin mining has been a serious thing. The introduction of the Bitcoin mining development kit developed by The Block (Jack Dorsey’s company) also focuses on decentralizing and democratizing the Bitcoin mining industry. The mining development kit aimed to enable developers to integrate Bitcoin mining into different devices and applications to make it more accessible and innovative.

With Block’s mining development kit, anyone can mine Bitcoin with off-grid power sources, house appliances, intermittent power sources, heating solutions, etc. Apart from aiming to decentralize mining, the kit could reduce the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining by only using excess or renewable energy.

Finally, the most engaging news is that Bitcoin mining has achieved a new sustainability milestone. According to a report published by Daniel Batten on Bitcoin ESG forecast on the 18th of January, about 54.5% of Bitcoin mining energy consumption is currently powered by renewable energy.

Bitcoin is the only primary global industry powered by sustainable energy.

What a great feat!

Bitcoin mining: The Future

In about four months, the entire mining industry economy will undergo a significant change. In April 2024, we’ll witness the fourth Bitcoin halving, where block rewards, which is currently 6.25 bitcoin, will be reduced by half to 3.125 bitcoin per block.

This will affect the profitability and efficiency of Bitcoin mining. Miners currently earn money through transaction fees and block rewards. Block reward produces the highest return to the miner, which will be affected in less than five months.

However, the recent introduction of innovative tech like ordinals on the Bitcoin networkshowed there is always potential for innovators to use the Bitcoin network, which could create demands for services provided by miners. While ordinals ushered in a spike to miner fees earlier in 2023, it has dwindled.

Finally, as a way to reduce the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining (energy consumption, technological wastes, etc), Bitcoin cloud mining has shown potential for effectiveness. Despite its shortcomings, the industry shows prospective and currently attracts more users. It provides easy access to Bitcoin mining. And it does not require buying or setting up specialized equipment to mine.

Although it’s still at its inception, cloud mining offers prospects for efficiency and profitability.