1. This is how centralized Bitcoin mining has become over the years
In the past years, it has been possible to observe a gradual, but constant trend of fewer Bitcoin (BTC) mining pools dominating the majority of the global network hashrate and block discovery. In this report, Finbold uses a data-based approach to analyze the decentralization state of the leading cryptocurrency network and explains why it is important.
Going from an unknown number of Bitcoin miners having the majority of its hashrate since the first block was mined by Satoshi Nakamoto, to four mining pools having mined over 59% of all blocks in the last three years, and only two of these institutions dominating over 52% of the new BTC distribution in the last three months.
Bitcoin mining decentralization state
This data was gathered from mempool.space pools ranking, which analyses the hashrate dominance by looking at who was responsible for each block ever added to the Bitcoin blockchain in each timeframe. Consequently receiving the reward in BTC through the creation of new coins — until the maximum limit of 21 million is achieved in the next 120 years (approximately).
All-time Bitcoin blocks discovery
At the time of publication, a total of 808987 Bitcoin blocks were mined and added to the blockchain. Resulting in a total of 19,493,656 BTC being distributed to each of the lucky miners (or mining pools) that discovered each of these blocks by providing Proof of Work (PoW) through hash calculations.’
Interestingly, from these 808,987 blocks, 220,716 (27.29%) were mined by unknown entities — mostly in the early days of the network, probably by individual and domestic miners, or yet unidentified mining companies.
3-year Bitcoin global hashrate decentralization
However, the scenario starts to change as Bitcoin becomes more recognized and the industry matures. Bitcoin miners — looking for more predictability in a highly competitive ‘winner takes all’ activity — started to unite forces (or hashrates) in mining pools. Effectively increasing their chance to mine a valid block and share the block reward.
This drastically changed the network’s decentralization state as seen in the last 3 years’ results, with only four pools providing over 59% of the global hashrate: Foundry USA (17.36%), AntPool (16.39%), F2Pool (15%) and Binance Pool (10.36%).
3-month BTC new supply distribution
Notably, the trend continues as time goes by. Bitcoin domestic mining is not feasible anymore, smaller companies are not able to survive while operating underwater, and the remaining survivors get more concentrated in fewer pools for even higher revenue predictability.
In the last three months, only two mining pools received more than half of all the Bitcoin supply distribution which is set as 6.25 BTC per mined block — that happens on average every 10 minutes, for around 900 BTC/day.
Foundry USA received around 24,831.25 BTC for mining 3,973 blocks (29.66%), while AntPool received around 19,018.75 BTC for mining 3,043 blocks (22.72%). This results in a total of 43,850 BTC accrued by these pools in the last 90 days, equal to $1.16 billion considering Bitcoin is priced at $26.500 by press time.
Why is Bitcoin PoW decentralization important?
Proof of Work decentralization is important from both a financial and technical security point of view.
A more decentralized Bitcoin distribution helps avoid market price manipulation, which can happen when fewer entities hold a larger share of the supply or exchanged volume. It also diminishes the effect of a single entity sell-off, as seen recently by F2Pool — currently the third largest mining pool.
Moreover, a more decentralized network also means that it is harder for a malicious entity to take over the consensus, which could, theoretically, allow for double spending through a 51% attack — when someone spends the same coin twice, like using a fake US dollar.
Although Bitcoin mining pools function with the collaborative work of multiple mining companies or individual miners, these contributors are only providing work through hash calculations. It is the pool coordinator who adds transactions to the block template, signs and broadcasts the block to the network, and receives the block reward to be distributed later among the miners.
All things considered, the more decentralized cryptocurrencies’ networks are, the more secure and valuable they can become long-term.
2. Bitcoin miners double down on efficiency and renewable energy at the WDMS
Bitmain rolled out its next-generation Antminer S21 and S21 Hydro ASIC miners at the World Digital Mining Summit (WDMS) in Hong Kong on Sept. 22, revealing the crucial performance stats the entire industry has been waiting for. The S21 has a hash rate of 200 terahashes per second (TH/s) and an efficiency of 17.5 joules per terahash (J/T), while the S21 hydro hashes at 335 TH/s and 16 J/T, which is notable given that until recently, most Bitcoin ASICS were operating above the 20 J/T level.
With electricity costs continuing to rise year-over-year and the Bitcoin halving projected to occur in April 2024, ASIC efficiency is quickly becoming the paramount focus of miners, and many are also pivoting toward folding in renewable energy sources as a core component of their operations.
Bitcoin miners focus on efficiency and renewable energy
Sustainable development in the mining industry was a core theme discussed in a majority of the panels at the WDMS. In the opening roundtable, team members from Terrawulf, Core Scientific, CleanSpark and Iris Energy shared their perspectives on how further integration of renewable energy sources will become a critical strategy to implement for many miners after the April 2024 Bitcoin supply halving.
According to Nazar Khan, Terrawulf’s chief operating officer:
“There’s a significant transition going on in the supply side of the generation process; there’s a concerted effort to decarbonize the entire supply stack, and so when we talk about Bitcoin miners consuming more renewable energy, that’s part of a broader theme that’s happening across the United States without Bitcoin mining as well. The role that we play is locating our Bitcoin mining loads in places where that’s happening and how do we facilitate that decarbonization process.“
One impact of the upcoming supply halving is that miners will maintain the same capital and operational costs, plus the need to pay down any revolving debts, while essentially seeing their block reward distribution cut in half.
For this reason, miners will either need to increase the percentage of their hash rate derived from sustainable energy sources or make efficiency adjustments to their ASIC fleet to maintain or increase their profitability.
Regarding the rollout of the Antminer S21 and its potential impact on the mining industry, BMC founder Justin Kramer said:
“The S21, if reliable, fairly priced and readily available — and yes, that’s a lot of ifs with Bitmain’s history — could revolutionize the crypto mining landscape with its efficiency. It is basically packing the power of two S19 100T miners into one unit. Despite this, the burgeoning aftermarket firmware market, coupled with hydro/immersion systems, give miners more tools to keep older generation miners, such as the S19, profitable also. Thus, while the S21 represents a notable advancement, it may not render sub 110 TH/s miners entirely obsolete.”
When asked about what else caught this eye from the S21 release, Kramer noted that:
“I like that Bitmain is rewarding environmentally friendly mining farms with better pricing and advanced delivery with their new Carbon Neutral Certificate. But, I’ll add that, it was a little surprising when I noticed that both new S21 models offer 33% more hash rate (S21 200T versus 151T on S19j XP; S21 hydro is 335T versus the S19 XP Hydro at 257T). Is this a coincidence? I’m doubtful, and it likely signals more of the same systematic model releases from Bitmain where a slight tweak to the firmware and maybe a few other items that are adjusted results in a moderate increase in hash rate and a brand-new miner.”
Bitcoin is en route to becoming an ESG asset
A theme of the past few years has been an increase in Bitcoin miners and BTC advocates pushing back against the assertion that Bitcoin mining is bad for the environment, and that the industry’s reliance on carbon-based energy production accelerates emissions.
Countering this perspective, Hong Kong Sustaintech Foundation professor in accounting and finance, Haitian Lu, bluntly announced that:
“Bitcoin mining is promoting renewable energy adoption in many areas.”
Lu explained that “over the years, Bitcoin mining has become more efficient and is also using cleaner energy. History tells us that human development from an agricultural society to industrialization to the future of a digitalized economy goes with every increasing energy consumption per capita. What makes the difference is human’s ability to use renewable energy increases, thus achieving sustainable development.”
Like the perspectives shared by other panelists, Lu said that Bitcoin miners’ participation in demand response agreements with power producers and distributors leads to energy grid efficiency, and they “provide an economic incentive for the development of renewable energy “promotion and development of renewable energy projects.”
In addition to Bitcoin mining tapping into stranded energy, encouraging the development of renewable energy projects and helping to balance electric grids, the efficiency advancements of next-generation ASICs like the Antminer S21 reduce miners’ energy consumption while also allowing them to boost their profits.
3. Core Scientific gets $53M from Bitmain in bid to re-energize bitcoin mining business
Bitmain has agreed to invest $53 million in embattled bitcoin miner Core Scientific alongside a new hosting agreement, as the sector grapples with historically low prices.
The Beijing-headquartered ASIC supplier will plow $23.1 million in cash into the mining company, with the remainder slated for Core Scientific shares, the companies revealed Thursday.
The agreement is contingent upon a year-end approval of a Chapter 11 reorganization plan for the mining firm. Bitmain’s hosting contract with Core Scientific is intended to back its mining operations, the companies said.
It includes the supply of 27,000 Bitmain S19J bitcoin mining servers, with a maximum hashrate of 151Th/s, to Core Scientific. The servers are slated for delivery in the fourth quarter of 2023 and are expected to add 4.1 EX/s to Core Scientific’s self-mining hashrate, they said.
It comes as the mining sector stares down historically low hash prices — the expected revenue per petahash per second of hashing capability for a miner, according to the Hashrate Index.
Core Scientific says it operates more than 200,000 miners, 99% of which are Bitmain S19 models. The new hardware is expected to improve Core Scientific’s mining efficiency.
As of the end of August 2023, Core Scientific had a total energized hash rate of 22 EX/s per second, according to a statement. The two companies have also agreed to upgrade older Bitmain models hosted at Core Scientific’s facilities, aiming to further increase the company’s hashing power.
Core Scientific, currently in the throes of bankruptcy proceedings, is attempting to shore up its business after being caught up in the chaos of last year’s market rout.
CEO Adam Sullivan, recently hired in August, hopes to pull the company back on track and is anticipating an exit of its bankruptcy by year’s end — though no definitive timeframe has yet been given.
The Texas-based miner fell on hard times following the collapse of FTX which sent crypto prices reeling alongside a hike in operational costs, namely, rising electricity prices for crypto miners.
In a securities document dated Nov. 21, the company revealed it needed more cash to sustain operations through 2023 and expressed uncertainty about its capacity to secure financing or tap into capital markets.