One of the primary questions that plagues the debate between Web 3.0 and 2.0 is the matter of energy efficiency. It’s an important question; however, it doesn’t have a straight answer.
There are so many factors to consider before answering that it’s nearly impossible to respond with a simple conclusion. First, we need to know what Web 3.0 is based on.
Will it be based on proof of work, or proof of stake? These are the two metrics that determine whether a particular blockchain network will be energy efficient or not.
The Journey To Web 3.0
It’s important to first understand how we got to Web 3.0 before we can understand Web 3.0’s consensus mechanisms and how they affect power generation.
Web 1.0 was the first version of the internet, and it was characterized by static web pages that couldn’t interact with the user. These web pages were simply joined by hyperlinks and had none of the features that made it easier to interact with them. Experts refer to this version of the web as read-only because that’s all you could do. The internet at that point was more like a book on a screen.
After that came Web 2.0. It was a massive improvement on Web 1.0 because it allowed users to do things on web pages. The pages were no longer static, and users could generate their content. The internet wasn’t just the domain of centralized content providers, it was now the domain of users and these providers.
The apps and websites that were borne out of the Web 2.0 internet revolution include Facebook and all other social media websites. But that’s not all. Tools like word processors, spreadsheets, and even slideshow presentations are all fruits of the Web 2.0 revolution.
As Web 2.0 was approaching its peak, people started realizing that they were making immense tradeoffs. Centralized servers were collecting tons of data and information on users based on these users’ interactions with their web pages. What this means is that people were putting a lot of trust in these centralized servers for no reason.
These servers could make unilateral rules that could affect the entire trajectory of a user’s life and suffer nothing in return. It was sort of like a benevolent dictatorship. The realization that this asymmetrical relationship didn’t just exist with social media, but also with finance, brought about the birth of Web 3.0.
Web 3.0 is essentially a decentralized solution to the centralization problem of Web 2.0. There are many ways to describe Web 3.0, but the most accurate summary is that it will be a decentralized web infrastructure where data has redundancies and is stored in multiple centers distributed across a network.
Since there won’t be a centralized authority running the network, people will be able to decide what to do with their data. The entire network is also built on a blockchain so that it’s completely transparent to others.
However, to make those decisions on the network, Web 3.0 needs a consensus mechanism. Consensus mechanisms are the way blockchains’ vote. Without a consensus mechanism, it would be impossible for the multiple data centers, or nodes on the blockchain, to reach a consensus.
There are two main types of consensus mechanisms for blockchains. The first is Proof of Stake (POS), and the second is Proof of Work (POW).
The Energy Of Consensus
These consensus mechanisms are the primary energy consumers of Web 3.0. If Web 3.0 didn’t have these consensus mechanisms, it would have the same energy rating as Web 2.0 and 1.0. However, because the network has to reach a consensus through a mechanism, the network ends up expending extraordinary amounts of energy.
Proof Of Work (POW)
Proof of Work (POW) was the first consensus mechanism, and it was consensus by work. The first network to make use of POW was Bitcoin, and the network still uses it today.
The POW mechanism is simple. It means that the participant nodes on the network have to prove that they have done some work to verify and validate new transactions on the network. To do this work, the nodes have to solve extremely complex mathematical problems during a set time.
These mathematical problems are so difficult that they require specialized computers and chips to solve. These computers and chips also require a lot of energy to reliably solve these problems. The consequence of this is that it becomes extremely expensive, energy-wise, to run these nodes.
To solve the problem of expenses, the owners of these nodes tend to migrate to states with cheap electricity made from fossil fuels. This, in turn, drives up the demand for fossil fuel generation and guarantees a negative impact on the environment.
While POW is incredibly useful to the security blockchain, it can also be bad for the environment. That’s one of the reasons why Tesla had to stop accepting Bitcoin as payment. It was simply too damaging to the environment.
Proof Of Stake (POS)
Like POW, Proof of Stake is also a consensus mechanism for blockchains. However, instead of proving to have solved a particular computer problem, POS chains ask for proof that a node has a certain amount of tokens staked.
POS essentially asks nodes to put their money where their mouth is. For transactions to be verified on POS networks, nodes have to stake the native coin of the network. The tokens are offered as collateral that ensures that the node will properly verify and validate the transaction block.
POS networks usually have algorithms that select the next node to verify a transaction at random. These algorithms often select nodes that have a higher number of coins staked. The neat thing about POS is that it involves no additional computational power and can be done on a regular laptop. In essence, it’s 99% more energy efficient than Proof of Work (POW) mechanisms.
Just How Green Is Web 2.0?
We’ve only explored the energy efficiency of Web 3.0 up until now. It’s time to shine a light on Web 2.0 and see whether it’s energy efficient or not.
The first thing to realize is that Web 2.0 isn’t too different from the internet as a whole in this context. An overwhelming majority of what’s on the internet is in Web 2.0 format.
According to Berkeley Lab, it takes around 70 billion kilowatt hours per year to run the internet. That energy figure represents about 1.8% of America’s entire energy supply. If the average cost of power is around 10 cents per KwH, this means that people would be paying around $7 billion upwards to use the internet every year. This also means that the internet is responsible for the emission of about 300 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. But again, these stats are for America alone.
Interestingly, the internet could take even more energy. Most new servers are being deployed in gigantic data centers 400,000 square feet in size. These data centers also operate at a high utilization rate, have advanced cooling systems, and use redundant power supplies.
All these make Web 2.0, as it were, a lot more energy efficient than it would have otherwise been.
Is Web 3.0 Greener Than Web 2.0?
There is no doubt that POW, the mechanism that blockchains like Bitcoin run on, is not energy efficient.
If we were to compare Bitcoin to Web 2.0 in terms of energy efficiency, the coin would certainly not come out looking great. Bitcoin and other blockchains with POW consensus mechanisms are no match for Web 2.0’s energy efficiency.
For example, in 2020, people used about 110 billion kWh to mine Bitcoin. Currently, Bitcoin mining takes as much energy as the entire country of Malaysia per year and has the same carbon footprint as Greece.
However, POS blockchains make use of no extra computing power. As such, they are definitely on the same level as Web 2.0 in terms of energy efficiency.
So the question isn’t whether Web 3.0 is greener than Web 2.0. It’s whether Proof of Stake (POS) blockchains are just as energy efficient as Web 2.0. And the answer to that question is yes.
On the Flipside
- Green-PoW is a theoretical Proof of Work (POW) that aims to reduce the energy required by POW blockchains by 50%. The success of this theory could lead to an energy-efficient POW.
Why You Should Care
The question of energy efficiency is an important one in light of the climate crisis. Therefore, it’s important to understand how crypto can move forward in an energy-efficient manner.