• 14 February 2024
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What is Bitcoin Mining? Explore its Mechanics and Profitability

What is Bitcoin Mining? Explore its Mechanics and Profitability

In the ever-changing world of Bitcoin, despite its ups and downs in value, new opportunities for Bitcoin mining are popping up in North America. Texas has taken the lead since 2021 when China put a ban on Bitcoin mining, prompting miners to look for new homes.

This shift opened the door for North American companies, especially those in the energy sector, to explore Bitcoin mining and integrate it into their businesses. 

If you’re not familiar with how Bitcoin works on the inside, “mining” is like the validation process for transactions on a special digital ledger called a blockchain. It’s a bit like a digital competition to add new records, or blocks, to the growing network of Bitcoin.

As a reward for their efforts, successful miners get paid in Bitcoin, and the value of one Bitcoin hit a whopping $68,000 in November 2021. 

After China’s ban on Bitcoin mining, North American companies like Riot Blockchain and Marathon Digital Holdings are making waves, raising record amounts of money to expand their operations.

Chinese companies are also part of the action, joining the Great Mining Migration to North America. 

They’re setting up shops, buildings, and large warehouses with thousands of specialized computers for mining various cryptocurrencies, with Bitcoin being the most popular. 

Energy companies are forming partnerships and joint ventures to make their mark. Power cost is a big deal in cryptocurrency mining, and companies with access to reliable, low-cost electricity—especially from renewable sources—have a significant advantage in shaping the future of the industry in North America. 

Hi, I’m Nabeel Shaikh, a number guy, and in this article, I’ll break down the basics of Bitcoin mining and guide you on calculating costs and rewards. We’ll also tackle the challenges, including concerns about energy use and the ever-changing regulations in the crypto world.

Unyielding Bitcoin: A Testament to Its Stability

Since its launch in 2009, Bitcoin has paved the way for numerous cryptocurrencies, yet when it comes to value, it stands out on its own. Despite its price going up and down, Bitcoin’s unique monetary policy adds a touch of stability by capping the total mined Bitcoins at 21 million over a set schedule. Even though we’re nearing 19 million in circulation, the mining reward is periodically halved, ensuring production won’t run out until 2140. 

While other cryptocurrencies also control their supply, none have matched Bitcoin’s popularity. 

As more investors jumped on the crypto bandwagon, Bitcoin took the lead with the introduction of futures and exchange-traded funds in regulated US and European markets. 

It even found its way onto the balance sheets of big companies like Tesla and Overstock.

This surge in demand boosted Bitcoin’s market cap to over $1 trillion in November 2021. Just for comparison, the second-most-popular cryptocurrency, Ethereum, only reached about half that value in the same month. 

The Resilience of Bitcoin: Enduring Tough Times

Bitcoin’s resilience becomes clearer when you look at the tough times it weathered during the 2022 crypto winter. This challenging period saw disastrous crashes, alleged fraud, and bankruptcies that wiped out nearly 70% of the entire crypto market’s value. Despite taking a significant hit, Bitcoin has managed to bounce back by more than 80% since January 2023, proving its strength in a famously unpredictable market. 

One of the reasons for Bitcoin’s standout performance is its massive industrial-scale mining operations, often called farms. These operations, especially those focusing on Bitcoin, have played a crucial role. 

Take the Genesis Mining farm in Iceland, for example; it’s a powerhouse consuming more electricity than any other company in the country. In North America, Riot Blockchain’s Texas facility is a major player, with three large warehouses sprawled across 100 acres of land and housing 60,000 mining computers solely dedicated to Bitcoin.

Bitcoin Mining

What is Bitcoin Mining?

Think of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin as a digital system that uses something called a blockchain. Now, a blockchain is like a digital ledger, constantly expanding with records. Picture each block in this chain as a file. What’s inside these files? Information about Bitcoin transactions, like when someone sends or receives Bitcoin.

Now, let’s focus on one of these files or blocks. It’s not just about transactions; it also includes details about the person (or the miner) who successfully created that block. Every block has a special code called a hash, like a unique fingerprint with 64 digits. This hash is crucial, and each block is linked to the one before it through these codes. It’s like a digital chain, with each link (or block) having its own special ID and connecting to the previous link.

In simple terms, imagine winning a block in cryptocurrency like a digital game. Miners, the ones handling transactions, try to be the first to guess a special code (hash) that’s equal to or less than the one generated by Bitcoin for a transaction. It’s like a digital race to crack a secret code and secure a block.

With more miners in the game and more computing power in play, the odds of any one miner winning decrease (currently one in the tens of trillions).

This setup ensures a steady pace for creating new blocks, happening about every 10 minutes. 

The competition among miners not only helps them win blocks but also secures the entire blockchain. This way, transactions and data move in a “trustless” manner, meaning we don’t need a middleman like a bank to make sure a Bitcoin isn’t spent twice. 

Instead, the difficulty of solving the right hash and the reward for success create a secure system. It’s just too expensive for anyone trying to do something fishy—it’s like a super-secure puzzle that’s not worth breaking into. 

Bitcoin’s Way of Agreement: Proof of Work (PoW) 

Bitcoin relies on a method called Proof of Work (PoW) to make sure everything runs smoothly. This involves the collective power of thousands of computers, making it a super strong and decentralized network. But, like anything, it has its downsides. 

One big downside is that it’s quite energy-hungry. As more computers join the mining party, the electricity needed to earn cryptocurrency and keep the network going goes up. 

Some other cryptocurrencies, like Ethereum, have adopted a different method called Proof of Stake (PoS). It doesn’t need as many computers, making it much more energy-efficient. While it’s not as secure, it’s easier on the environment.

This makes it better for supporting cool things like smart contracts, non-fungible tokens, and decentralized finance. But Bitcoin isn’t jumping on that train just yet; it’s sticking with PoW. 

Bitcoin’s Mining Rewards and Challenges

Part of Bitcoin’s unique plan involves cutting the reward for mining a block in half every so often.

For instance, it went from 6.25 BTC to 3.125 BTC around April 2024. Now, you might wonder why miners are still excited even though they get fewer bitcoins. 

Well, it speaks volumes about how profitable and promising the industry is. The drop in the reward is part of the plan, and people still believe in Bitcoin’s value. 

In 2021, when Chinese operators had to close shop, the hash rate (a fancy term for the total number of hash guesses in the network) took a hit. This created a golden opportunity for new miners. Fast forward to June 2023, and the hash rate more than doubled, reaching 375 EH/s. It’s like the heartbeat of the Bitcoin network, and this increase shows how the community is growing.

Setting Up Your Bitcoin Mining Operation

So, what do you need to start mining Bitcoin? Here’s the checklist: 

Specialized Computer (ASIC Miner): Think of this as your mining superhero. It’s designed to compete for and support Bitcoin specifically. 

Power to the Machines: You’ll need a reliable and cost-effective energy supply to keep your mining machines running. 

Stay Connected: A good and dependable internet connection is a must. It keeps your mining setup communicating with the Bitcoin network. 

Keep It Cool: Whether you’re mining at home or in a big Bitcoin farm, you’ll need a cooling system. Computers can get hot when they’re working hard! 

Tech Savvy Setup: You’ll need a computer, the right software, and the know-how to set up and monitor your mining operations. 

Starting small? A basic home mining setup might just include a computer and a few ASIC miners. It’s like having your own little mining crew at home! 

Initially, Bitcoin gained popularity through solo hobbyists, but now it’s more common for folks to team up in virtual mining groups like Slush Pool or AntPool. Joining forces increases their chances of success in the vast world of mining. 

Today’s mining scene looks more like massive farms filled with thousands of ASIC miners. Whether you’re setting up at home or in a warehouse, the basic framework remains pretty similar, just on a different scale. 

Revenue for miners comes from the block reward and transaction fees. Winning a block means you get both. Transaction fees vary, but as of June 2023, they’ve averaged about 0.31 BTC, roughly 5% of the block reward. 

Cracking the Bitcoin Mining Cost Code

Step 1: Hashes and Time 

To get one Bitcoin, think of solving many digital puzzles. The process involves factors like how fast the network solves puzzles, the time in seconds each day, and how many Bitcoins are made daily. A rough estimate shows you’d need around 34,000 exahashes to mine one Bitcoin. It’s like figuring out a massive digital puzzle to earn a Bitcoin.

Time-wise, using an ASIC miner, it takes about 7.7 years to mine a single Bitcoin based on the current hash rate. 

Step 2: Expenses Breakdown 

Capital Expenses (CapEx): To figure out the cost per Bitcoin, we look at the ASIC miner’s lifetime, which is about 2.5 years. This gives us a CapEx of around $14,300 per Bitcoin. 

Operational Expenses (OpEx): Electricity costs play a big role. Over the 7.7 years, at a rate of $0.05 per kilowatt-hour, it adds up to about $10,200 per Bitcoin. Add another $2,000 for cooling and other expenses. 

Step 3: Total Production Cost 

Add up the CapEx, electricity, and other OpEx costs, and you get a total production cost of around $26,500 per Bitcoin.

Note: These are rounded figures, and the calculation doesn’t consider the potential growth in the network hash rate. 

The Bottom Line: Is Mining Worth It?

After laying out all the assumptions and calculating the production cost per Bitcoin in our single-ASIC setup (which is around $26,500), it’s time for a critical question:

Does mining Bitcoin end up being cheaper than simply buying it? 

As of now in February 2024, buying one Bitcoin on the spot market costs around $52,000. 

Key Considerations: 

To truly make mining worthwhile, we need a clear advantage in cost. A sensitivity analysis can help us figure out the specific equipment cost and electricity price needed to turn a profit. This is crucial because the price of Bitcoin and the network hash rate can be unpredictable. 

The Reality for Small vs. Large Miners: 

For small-scale miners, it might be challenging to optimize costs enough for mining to be highly profitable, especially when hash rates and electricity costs are high. On the other hand, large-scale miners typically have more room to make mining economically viable. 

Navigating the Risks of Bitcoin Mining 

Price Volatility: Since miners are paid in Bitcoin, the volatile nature of its price poses a significant revenue risk. Fluctuations can impact the value of the mined Bitcoin.

Competition Challenges: As more miners join the race, winning a block becomes tougher. Increased competition can reduce the odds of success for individual miners.

Operational Hurdles: Operational risks include potential issues with internet connectivity, overheating of ASICs, and the possibility of system hacks. However, given the robustness of the Bitcoin network, hacking risk remains relatively low.

Electricity Reliability: Electricity is a critical factor in mining, and miners must closely examine the redundancy of their power supply. Questions about the vulnerability of power grids, as seen in Texas, add another layer of concern.

Regulatory Environment: Regulatory risks loom large, with changing regulations impacting miners globally. Countries like China, Kazakhstan, and Iceland have curtailed mining operations due to concerns about energy grid demand.

In the US, federal and state governments are actively involved, with tax reporting requirements and increased scrutiny from financial authorities.

Environmental Impact: Bitcoin mining’s energy demands raise ethical and reputational concerns. Criticism regarding the industry’s carbon footprint has been growing. Larger producers are committing to renewable energy, responding to the environmental impact concerns. However, the environmental issue remains a key challenge for the industry.

Market and Public Perception: Public perception matters, and the crypto industry has faced criticism for its energy consumption. Companies are responding by committing to renewable energy sources and finding innovative ways to utilize wasted power.

Response to Environmental Concerns: The industry is adapting, with companies focusing on renewable energy and utilizing wasted power. The environmental impact is now a global concern, and the industry’s response will play a crucial role in its future.

Overall, Bitcoin mining profitability has declined in 2023. Key drivers include a substantial increase in the network hash rate, rising electricity costs due to inflation, and a decrease in Bitcoin unit revenue from its all-time high. 

Despite a drop in ASIC costs since the 2021 mining boom, it hasn’t been sufficient to counter these challenges. Larger companies with highly optimized operations and robust balance sheets have opportunities in the current environment.

Distressed assets in the market present potential acquisitions for companies with the financial strength to capitalize on them

For new entrants, especially power companies, integrating Bitcoin mining into existing operations offers a unique opportunity. This not only helps manage energy output but also aligns with public opinion on sustainable practices.

Success in the Bitcoin mining industry requires a long-term vision, adaptability, and a proactive approach to evolving challenges and opportunities.

Read more: Guide to Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Exchanges: Important Things to Know

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