This is an opinion editorial by Mickey Koss, a West Point graduate with a degree in economics. He spent four years in the infantry before transitioning to the Finance Corps.
I’ve heard some recycled fear, uncertainty and doubt recently about transaction fees on the Bitcoin network not being able to sustain the miners, and thus maintain security once the block subsidy gets too low and or disappears. This got me thinking about how incentives might play out.
Besides the obvious observation that they’re assuming no network usage growth and perpetually low fees on the base chain, I believe there are two key underlying assumptions that need to be addressed:
- Mining hardware will continue to exist in its current form as standalone, single-use computers.
- Mining companies will continue to exist in their current form as large, stand-alone companies that must constantly strive for profitability or go out of business.
Mining Hardware: One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure
The name of the game here is utilizing waste. In its current form, electric heating elements create heat through the use of resistors. Resistors resist, changing the “flow” of electricity and dissipating the electrical power in the form of heat. You’re essentially utilizing poor electrical conductors in order to create heat. Seems pretty wasteful to me.
In terms of miners, their main waste product is heat. Imagine the applications you could build utilizing Bitcoin-specific ASIC chips. I see a future when every furnace and water heater produced utilizes ASIC chips as the heating element rather than the traditional electrical resistor types that exist today.
MintGreen in Canada is already doing this at a pretty large scale. They utilize their waste heat from the miners to heat local businesses like breweries, sea salt distilleries and even greenhouses.
This changes the home mining-profitability math completely. When utilizing dual purpose applications and harnessing the heat originally characterized as waste, the applications don’t need to be profitable in the traditional sense anymore.
The use of the newest generation of ASIC chips for heating purposes is not necessarily needed, nor desirable. Bitcoin mining heating applications, especially at the retail level, simply need to use the same amount of electricity or less than their non-mining competitors. The little bitcoin that is mined is simply an added benefit for upgrading your system or an incentive for builders to put into new homes.
Why would you want to buy a home that wastes electricity by simply heating it? That’s old school. I want a home that heats up and pays me when I heat it. I want a Bitcoin smart home.
Electric System Explained
To understand the second assumption, you first need to understand how electricity is generated. Electricity generation capacity consists of three main generating sources: base, peak and intermediate load generation. Base load power generates the minimum amount of electricity in order to satisfy the minimum level of demand in the system. Peak load generation is used to meet peak demand periods when demand spikes. It is ramped up and down, making it less efficient and more expensive. Intermediate load is also a variable source which responds to changes in demand, bridging the gap between base and peak load.
If we have variable capacity on hand, that means that at least some of the time we have unused capacity — valuable capital — that’s not being utilized. What this means is that your electricity costs not only have to cover the cost of production, but also must subsidize the cost of all the unused, but necessary capacity electricity producers have to maintain.
Why so much complexity? Because demand is not constant. The above graphic shows the average demand for electricity and just how volatile it is, not only by region, but also by season. If power plants produce too much electricity, it can actually damage the grid, leading to a blackout.
There are a few techniques to store excess energy such as pumped storage hydropower, but they all have limitations such as access to water, space and battery technology. Simply put, once your battery is full, there’s nowhere else for the energy to go which ultimately leads to power curtailment. It’s also why intermittent sources like wind and solar will likely never be a sole source of power for the grid. There’s simply not enough storage capacity to keep the system running when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.
Bitcoin, of course, fixes this.
Miners Don’t Need To Be Profitable
Right now, we see miners as standalone companies, buying electricity on the markets from electric companies. If the bitcoin price goes down and/or costs go up, miners get squeezed and go out of business. It’s a viciously competitive industry, but what if it wasn’t? What if mining became a service rather than a standalone business?
Service One: Elimination Of Variable Load Energy Sources
In my humble opinion, the only way forward for a truly sustainable energy system is one that is based on nuclear power. Nuclear power, however, is a base load energy generator; you can’t really ramp it up and down. The electricity produced must be consumed or literally wasted by sending it into the ground. So what do we use for variable demand?
My answer is bitcoin.
Instead of building capacity in variable forms — using up a bunch of capital for assets that are only used some of the time — why not build a massive base load of nuclear energy and use bitcoin mining as the variable demand to smooth the electricity demand curve. It flips the paradigm on its head. Not only do we get a massive source of clean and sustainable energy, we also utilize all of our capacity all of the time. The only variable being how much hash rate the power plant produces throughout the day.
In the meantime, bitcoin can be used to utilize all of the grid’s energy producing capacity. It will increase power company revenues, providing them with more capital to invest and build out infrastructure. Through the integration of bitcoin mining and energy production, bitcoin mining no longer has to be profitable in the traditional sense; it simply needs to outweigh the opportunity cost of not producing electricity at all.
Furthermore, the increased utilization means that consumers are no longer subsidizing unused capacity in their monthly bills. Imagine electricity rate-freezes or even cuts. At the very least, power rates wouldn’t need to rise nearly as fast. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
If a clean, sustainable, resilient, reliable and affordable electric grid is your goal, bitcoin is the way.
Service Two: Cleaning Up The Air
Waste products like natural gas and methane have been nothing more than an expensive cost of business for some time. All of that is beginning to change at a rapid pace.
Whether the gasses are produced through the breakdown of buried trash at a landfill, the drilling for oil, or the excrement of livestock and people, those gasses can now be harnessed and monetized through the use of generators to mine bitcoin.
It’s already happening.
ExxonMobil is just one of the companies starting to do this. Natural gas is a byproduct of oil drilling and extraction. In many cases, it was simply not economical to bring the gas to market, forcing producers to flare, or even worse, vent the gas directly into the atmosphere. Now the waste gas can be routed into a generator and used for mining bitcoin. It incentivizes companies to be more careful with that waste gas because it has been transformed into an income-producing asset rather than a pesky cost of business.
Landfills are also facing the same incentives. As garbage breaks down under the surface, it produces methane gasses. Those gasses, much like oil producers, were often flared or vented. With bitcoin mining, the methane is now an asset to those companies, incentivizing them to become better stewards, reducing air pollution.
Even human waste can be monetized with bitcoin mining. Wastewater treatment plants typically use anaerobic digesters to break down the solids after separating them from the bulk of the water they process. This process produces, you guessed it, methane.
Much like the power plant examples, bitcoin waste mining creates a situation in which miners no longer need to be profitable. Mining simply needs to outweigh the opportunity cost of not mining. In the situations where the gas cannot be brought to market, anything is better than nothing. I think I see a world where gas flaring and venting is a thing of the past.
No Profits? No Problem
Satoshi Nakamoto had to think differently to bring about the creation of an entirely different network of money and value. We now need to think differently to not only ensure the network survives, but to ensure human flourishing continues into the foreseeable future.
Energy is not scarce, nor should it be. Bitcoin is the incentive that the world needs to become truly innovative to ensure cheap, clean energy is available for all. Bitcoin is human flourishing.
This is a guest post by Mickey Koss. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.
El Salvador Takes First Step To Issue Bitcoin Volcano Bonds
El Salvador’s Minister of the Economy Maria Luisa Hayem Brevé submitted a digital assets issuance bill to the country’s legislative assembly, paving the way for the launch of its bitcoin-backed “volcano” bonds.
First announced one year ago today, the pioneering initiative seeks to attract capital and investors to El Salvador. It was revealed at the time the plans to issue $1 billion in bonds on the Liquid Network, a federated Bitcoin sidechain, with the proceedings of the bonds being split between a $500 million direct allocation to bitcoin and an investment of the same amount in building out energy and bitcoin mining infrastructure in the region.
A sidechain is an independent blockchain that runs parallel to another blockchain, allowing for tokens from that blockchain to be used securely in the sidechain while abiding by a different set of rules, performance requirements, and security mechanisms. Liquid is a sidechain of Bitcoin that allows bitcoin to flow between the Liquid and Bitcoin networks with a two-way peg. A representation of bitcoin used in the Liquid network is referred to as L-BTC. Its verifiably equivalent amount of BTC is managed and secured by the network’s members, called functionaries.
“Digital securities law will enable El Salvador to be the financial center of central and south America,” wrote Paolo Ardoino, CTO of cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, on Twitter.
Bitfinex is set to be granted a license in order to be able to process and list the bond issuance in El Salvador.
The bonds will pay a 6.5% yield and enable fast-tracked citizenship for investors. The government will share half the additional gains with investors as a Bitcoin Dividend once the original $500 million has been monetized. These dividends will be dispersed annually using Blockstream’s asset management platform.
The act of submitting the bill, which was hinted at earlier this year, kickstarts the first major milestone before the bonds can see the light of day. The next is getting it approved, which is expected to happen before Christmas, a source close to President Nayib Bukele told Bitcoin Magazine. The bill was submitted on November 17 and presented to the country’s Congress today. It is embedded in full below.
How I’ll Talk To Family Members About Bitcoin This Thanksgiving
This is an opinion editorial by Joakim Book, a Research Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, contributor and copy editor for Bitcoin Magazine and a writer on all things money and financial history.
That’s it. That’s the article.
In all sincerity, that is the full message: Just don’t do it. It’s not worth it.
You’re not an excited teenager anymore, in desperate need of bragging credits or trying out your newfound wisdom. You’re not a preaching priestess with lost souls to save right before some imminent arrival of the day of reckoning. We have time.
Instead: just leave people alone. Seriously. They came to Thanksgiving dinner to relax and rejoice with family, laugh, tell stories and zone out for a day — not to be ambushed with what to them will sound like a deranged rant in some obscure topic they couldn’t care less about. Even if it’s the monetary system, which nobody understands anyway.
If you’re not convinced of this Dale Carnegie-esque social approach, and you still naively think that your meager words in between bites can change anybody’s view on anything, here are some more serious reasons for why you don’t talk to friends and family about Bitcoin the protocol — but most certainly not bitcoin, the asset:
- Your family and friends don’t want to hear it. Move on.
- For op-sec reasons, you don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to the fact that you probably have a decent bitcoin stack. Hopefully, family and close friends should be safe enough to confide in, but people talk and that gossip can only hurt you.
- People find bitcoin interesting only when they’re ready to; everyone gets the price they deserve. Like Gigi says in “21 Lessons:”
“Bitcoin will be understood by you as soon as you are ready, and I also believe that the first fractions of a bitcoin will find you as soon as you are ready to receive them. In essence, everyone will get ₿itcoin at exactly the right time.”
It’s highly unlikely that your uncle or mother-in-law just happens to be at that stage, just when you’re about to sit down for dinner.
- Unless you can claim youth, old age or extreme poverty, there are very few people who genuinely haven’t heard of bitcoin. That means your evangelizing wouldn’t be preaching to lost, ignorant souls ready to be saved but the tired, huddled and jaded masses who could care less about the discovery that will change their societies more than the internal combustion engine, internet and Big Government combined. Big deal.
- What is the case, however, is that everyone in your prospective audience has already had a couple of touchpoints and rejected bitcoin for this or that standard FUD. It’s a scam; seems weird; it’s dead; let’s trust the central bankers, who have our best interest at heart.
No amount of FUD busting changes that impression, because nobody holds uninformed and fringe convictions for rational reasons, reasons that can be flipped by your enthusiastic arguments in-between wiping off cranberry sauce and grabbing another turkey slice.
- It really is bad form to talk about money — and bitcoin is the best money there is. Be classy.
Now, I’m not saying to never ever talk about Bitcoin. We love to talk Bitcoin — that’s why we go to meetups, join Twitter Spaces, write, code, run nodes, listen to podcasts, attend conferences. People there get something about this monetary rebellion and have opted in to be part of it. Your unsuspecting family members have not; ambushing them with the wonders of multisig, the magically fast Lightning transactions or how they too really need to get on this hype train, like, yesterday, is unlikely to go down well.
However, if in the post-dinner lull on the porch someone comes to you one-on-one, whisky in hand and of an inquisitive mind, that’s a very different story. That’s personal rather than public, and it’s without the time constraints that so usually trouble us. It involves clarifying questions or doubts for somebody who is both expressively curious about the topic and available for the talk. That’s rare — cherish it, and nurture it.
Last year I wrote something about the proper role of political conversations in social settings. Since November was also election month, it’s appropriate to cite here:
“Politics, I’m starting to believe, best belongs in the closet — rebranded and brought out for the specific occasion. Or perhaps the bedroom, with those you most trust, love, and respect. Not in public, not with strangers, not with friends, and most certainly not with other people in your community. Purge it from your being as much as you possibly could, and refuse to let political issues invade the areas of our lives that we cherish; politics and political disagreements don’t belong there, and our lives are too important to let them be ruled by (mostly contrived) political disagreements.”
If anything, those words seem more true today than they even did then. And I posit to you that the same applies for bitcoin.
Everyone has some sort of impression or opinion of bitcoin — and most of them are plain wrong. But there’s nothing people love more than a savior in white armor, riding in to dispel their errors about some thing they are freshly out of fucks for. Just like politics, nobody really cares.
Leave them alone. They will find bitcoin in their own time, just like all of us did.
This is a guest post by Joakim Book. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.
RGB Magic: Client-Side Contracts On Bitcoin
This is an opinion editorial by Federico Tenga, a long time contributor to Bitcoin projects with experience as start-up founder, consultant and educator.
The term “smart contracts” predates the invention of the blockchain and Bitcoin itself. Its first mention is in a 1994 article by Nick Szabo, who defined smart contracts as a “computerized transaction protocol that executes the terms of a contract.” While by this definition Bitcoin, thanks to its scripting language, supported smart contracts from the very first block, the term was popularized only later by Ethereum promoters, who twisted the original definition as “code that is redundantly executed by all nodes in a global consensus network”
While delegating code execution to a global consensus network has advantages (e.g. it is easy to deploy unowed contracts, such as the popularly automated market makers), this design has one major flaw: lack of scalability (and privacy). If every node in a network must redundantly run the same code, the amount of code that can actually be executed without excessively increasing the cost of running a node (and thus preserving decentralization) remains scarce, meaning that only a small number of contracts can be executed.
But what if we could design a system where the terms of the contract are executed and validated only by the parties involved, rather than by all members of the network? Let us imagine the example of a company that wants to issue shares. Instead of publishing the issuance contract publicly on a global ledger and using that ledger to track all future transfers of ownership, it could simply issue the shares privately and pass to the buyers the right to further transfer them. Then, the right to transfer ownership can be passed on to each new owner as if it were an amendment to the original issuance contract. In this way, each owner can independently verify that the shares he or she received are genuine by reading the original contract and validating that all the history of amendments that moved the shares conform to the rules set forth in the original contract.
This is actually nothing new, it is indeed the same mechanism that was used to transfer property before public registers became popular. In the U.K., for example, it was not compulsory to register a property when its ownership was transferred until the ‘90s. This means that still today over 15% of land in England and Wales is unregistered. If you are buying an unregistered property, instead of checking on a registry if the seller is the true owner, you would have to verify an unbroken chain of ownership going back at least 15 years (a period considered long enough to assume that the seller has sufficient title to the property). In doing so, you must ensure that any transfer of ownership has been carried out correctly and that any mortgages used for previous transactions have been paid off in full. This model has the advantage of improved privacy over ownership, and you do not have to rely on the maintainer of the public land register. On the other hand, it makes the verification of the seller’s ownership much more complicated for the buyer.
How can the transfer of unregistered properties be improved? First of all, by making it a digitized process. If there is code that can be run by a computer to verify that all the history of ownership transfers is in compliance with the original contract rules, buying and selling becomes much faster and cheaper.
Secondly, to avoid the risk of the seller double-spending their asset, a system of proof of publication must be implemented. For example, we could implement a rule that every transfer of ownership must be committed on a predefined spot of a well-known newspaper (e.g. put the hash of the transfer of ownership in the upper-right corner of the first page of the New York Times). Since you cannot place the hash of a transfer in the same place twice, this prevents double-spending attempts. However, using a famous newspaper for this purpose has some disadvantages:
- You have to buy a lot of newspapers for the verification process. Not very practical.
- Each contract needs its own space in the newspaper. Not very scalable.
- The newspaper editor can easily censor or, even worse, simulate double-spending by putting a random hash in your slot, making any potential buyer of your asset think it has been sold before, and discouraging them from buying it. Not very trustless.
For these reasons, a better place to post proof of ownership transfers needs to be found. And what better option than the Bitcoin blockchain, an already established trusted public ledger with strong incentives to keep it censorship-resistant and decentralized?
If we use Bitcoin, we should not specify a fixed place in the block where the commitment to transfer ownership must occur (e.g. in the first transaction) because, just like with the editor of the New York Times, the miner could mess with it. A better approach is to place the commitment in a predefined Bitcoin transaction, more specifically in a transaction that originates from an unspent transaction output (UTXO) to which the ownership of the asset to be issued is linked. The link between an asset and a bitcoin UTXO can occur either in the contract that issues the asset or in a subsequent transfer of ownership, each time making the target UTXO the controller of the transferred asset. In this way, we have clearly defined where the obligation to transfer ownership should be (i.e in the Bitcoin transaction originating from a particular UTXO). Anyone running a Bitcoin node can independently verify the commitments and neither the miners nor any other entity are able to censor or interfere with the asset transfer in any way.
Since on the Bitcoin blockchain we only publish a commitment of an ownership transfer, not the content of the transfer itself, the seller needs a dedicated communication channel to provide the buyer with all the proofs that the ownership transfer is valid. This could be done in a number of ways, potentially even by printing out the proofs and shipping them with a carrier pigeon, which, while a bit impractical, would still do the job. But the best option to avoid the censorship and privacy violations is establish a direct peer-to-peer encrypted communication, which compared to the pigeons also has the advantage of being easy to integrate with a software to verify the proofs received from the counterparty.
This model just described for client-side validated contracts and ownership transfers is exactly what has been implemented with the RGB protocol. With RGB, it is possible to create a contract that defines rights, assigns them to one or more existing bitcoin UTXO and specifies how their ownership can be transferred. The contract can be created starting from a template, called a “schema,” in which the creator of the contract only adjusts the parameters and ownership rights, as is done with traditional legal contracts. Currently, there are two types of schemas in RGB: one for issuing fungible tokens (RGB20) and a second for issuing collectibles (RGB21), but in the future, more schemas can be developed by anyone in a permissionless fashion without requiring changes at the protocol level.
To use a more practical example, an issuer of fungible assets (e.g. company shares, stablecoins, etc.) can use the RGB20 schema template and create a contract defining how many tokens it will issue, the name of the asset and some additional metadata associated with it. It can then define which bitcoin UTXO has the right to transfer ownership of the created tokens and assign other rights to other UTXOs, such as the right to make a secondary issuance or to renominate the asset. Each client receiving tokens created by this contract will be able to verify the content of the Genesis contract and validate that any transfer of ownership in the history of the token received has complied with the rules set out therein.
So what can we do with RGB in practice today? First and foremost, it enables the issuance and the transfer of tokenized assets with better scalability and privacy compared to any existing alternative. On the privacy side, RGB benefits from the fact that all transfer-related data is kept client-side, so a blockchain observer cannot extract any information about the user’s financial activities (it is not even possible to distinguish a bitcoin transaction containing an RGB commitment from a regular one), moreover, the receiver shares with the sender only blinded UTXO (i. e. the hash of the concatenation between the UTXO in which she wish to receive the assets and a random number) instead of the UTXO itself, so it is not possible for the payer to monitor future activities of the receiver. To further increase the privacy of users, RGB also adopts the bulletproof cryptographic mechanism to hide the amounts in the history of asset transfers, so that even future owners of assets have an obfuscated view of the financial behavior of previous holders.
In terms of scalability, RGB offers some advantages as well. First of all, most of the data is kept off-chain, as the blockchain is only used as a commitment layer, reducing the fees that need to be paid and meaning that each client only validates the transfers it is interested in instead of all the activity of a global network. Since an RGB transfer still requires a Bitcoin transaction, the fee saving may seem minimal, but when you start introducing transaction batching they can quickly become massive. Indeed, it is possible to transfer all the tokens (or, more generally, “rights”) associated with a UTXO towards an arbitrary amount of recipients with a single commitment in a single bitcoin transaction. Let’s assume you are a service provider making payouts to several users at once. With RGB, you can commit in a single Bitcoin transaction thousands of transfers to thousands of users requesting different types of assets, making the marginal cost of each single payout absolutely negligible.
Another fee-saving mechanism for issuers of low value assets is that in RGB the issuance of an asset does not require paying fees. This happens because the creation of an issuance contract does not need to be committed on the blockchain. A contract simply defines to which already existing UTXO the newly issued assets will be allocated to. So if you are an artist interested in creating collectible tokens, you can issue as many as you want for free and then only pay the bitcoin transaction fee when a buyer shows up and requests the token to be assigned to their UTXO.
Furthermore, because RGB is built on top of bitcoin transactions, it is also compatible with the Lightning Network. While it is not yet implemented at the time of writing, it will be possible to create asset-specific Lightning channels and route payments through them, similar to how it works with normal Lightning transactions.
RGB is a groundbreaking innovation that opens up to new use cases using a completely new paradigm, but which tools are available to use it? If you want to experiment with the core of the technology itself, you should directly try out the RGB node. If you want to build applications on top of RGB without having to deep dive into the complexity of the protocol, you can use the rgb-lib library, which provides a simple interface for developers. If you just want to try to issue and transfer assets, you can play with Iris Wallet for Android, whose code is also open source on GitHub. If you just want to learn more about RGB you can check out this list of resources.
This is a guest post by Federico Tenga. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.