What is Flow?
Flow is a decentralized and developer friendly blockchain, primarily built as a platform for games, apps, and digital assets. (1) Its ability to scale without sharding, (a database partitioning technique, which can become complicated), ensures that Flow can scale easily and efficiently. Many new and exciting NFT projects are currently being built and operated on the Flow blockchain, these include NBA Top Shot, CryptoKitties, and LaLiga.
Concerns with Energy Usage
Growing worries over global warming and its consequent impacts have drawn attention to energy consumption and contribution to greenhouse gases caused by blockchain technology. Increased carbon emissions have been strongly linked to the rise in global temperatures. The possible consequences of rising temperatures are potentially devastating, with the effects ranging from extreme weather events to increased prevalence of disease, rising sea levels and extinction of species. (2)
This has therefore called into action multinational efforts to reduce our contribution to global warming, with new targets and policies set by various countries and governments such as the Paris agreement and the UK climate change act. Our efforts to ensure that the planet can remain healthy and viable must be one driven from a shared responsibility and effort by all.
The Energy Consumption of Flow and a Comparison of other Blockchains
Popular blockchain networks such as Bitcoin and Ethereum are notorious for their high energy usage, the energy consumption for bitcoin is estimated to be 121.36 TWh a year (3), as a form of comparison, this is a higher annual usage of electricity than the whole of the UAE. (7)
Ethereum is also another platform with a high energy usage of an estimated 74.6 TWh (4), greater than the entirety of Austria. (7) Flow on the other hand, provides a much greener alternative with an estimated energy consumption of under 0.001 TWh. (5)
From Figure 1, it is clear that Flow has a considerably lower energy consumption when compared to other major blockchains. This massive reduction in energy usage can be attributed to Flow’s proof of stake model versus that of Bitcoin and Ethereum, which is a proof of work model.
A comparison of the energy consumption in multiple industries against the Flow blockchain can be seen in Figure 2. It can be seen that across the multiple industries, the energy consumption of Flow is insignificant in comparison. Bitcoin, however, has such a large energy consumption that it is comparable to that of gold mining — a very industrial and energy intensive industry.
Figure 3 illustrates the electricity consumption of various countries and compares them against popular blockchain technologies. From this we can see that Bitcoin’s energy consumption is greater than multiple countries including that of the UAE, Netherlands, and various others. Ethereum is similarly responsible for high energy consumption which surpass several countries by comparison, including Austria, Venezuela, and Switzerland.
The Flow blockchain, however, has a very small energy consumption, substantially lower that of both Bitcoin and Ethereum. From this, we can gather that the Flow blockchain is an eco-friendly and viable blockchain for the upcoming future.
What Makes Flow Energy Efficient?
Flow works on a proof of stake model which means that a person can mine or validate transactions based on the number of coins they hold, this conversely differs from a proof-of-work model (used by Bitcoin and Ethereum). Proof of work models require large computing and processing power to solve complex problems to add blocks to the chain, which draws a lot of energy and in turn increases emissions, proof of stake models avoid this and reduce their energy usage.
The Future of Blockchain Technology and Energy
As computer technology improves, the energy requirement will also consequently improve for blockchains such as Flow, which is based on a proof of stake model. In order to push towards carbon neutrality, blockchain technologies should look towards methods such as carbon offsetting which would involve planting trees to offset any emissions released through energy usage by these respective technologies.
The primary downfall is our continuous use of fossil fuels, which we still derive most of our energy from. A new and carbon friendly future would require us to move away from such sources to more renewable resources. Coal as a fuel source must be phased out, given its large CO2 emission rate. It is expected to be replaced by natural gas, as it releases approximately 50% of the CO2 emissions. (8) Nuclear power is also a carbon friendly fuel source, as are solar, wind, geothermal etc. It is our duty to act responsibly to minimise our carbon footprint as best we can and to advocate change within our own countries and governments. This is also imperative for those using and building on blockchain technology, to use eco-friendly and ethical platforms such as Flow.
MSc, BEng Chemical Engineering
Chief Operating Officer
1. Flow. https://www.onflow.org/primer. s.l. : Flow, 2021.
2. Thomas, B., Murphy, D. J. & Murray. Encyclopedia of applied plant sciences. s.l. : Academic Press is an imprint of Elsevier, 2016.
3. BBC. (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-56012952#:~:text=%22Mining%22%20for%20the%20cryptocurrency%20is,value%20of%20the%20currency%20slumps.). s.l. : BBC, 2021.
4. Adan. https://adan.eu/en/article/blockchain-protocol-energy-footprint. s.l. : Adan, 2021.
5. Shirley, Dieter. (https://twitter.com/dete73/status/1367236572018450432?s=20). . s.l. : Twitter, 2021.
6. CCAF. https://ccaf.io/cbeci/index/comparisons. s.l. : CCAF, 2021.
7. IEA. https://www.iea.org/reports/key-world-energy-statistics-2020. s.l. : IEA, 2020.
8. met. https://group.met.com/fyouture/natural-gas-vs-coal/66. s.l. : met.