Solana is now measuring data pertaining to its carbon emissions in real time, the Solana Foundation announced today. It’s a claimed first-of-its-kind move for "a major smart contract blockchain network." Smart contracts hold the code that powers decentralized apps (dapps) and NFT projects.
Beginning today, Solana will regularly update a dedicated dashboard with statistics monitoring key environmental metrics for the network: its energy consumption, carbon footprint, and network power intensity, among other data. It pulls real-time data from software installed on Solana validator nodes, but the dashboard is only updated every two weeks.
The emissions tracker, developed in collaboration with carbon data platform Trycarbonara, gathers statistics from on-chain data, as well as data collected directly from a representative sample of Solana validators.
That more granular data, which tracks when individual validators are online and offline, and the geographic context in which they use energy, offers a much more precise measurement of Solana’s energy consumption than previously relied-upon estimates.
Environmental impact has long been a hot-button issue for blockchain networks, which can suck up huge amounts of energy to generate new cryptocurrency and facilitate on-chain transactions.
Though perhaps less visibly detrimental, pollution generated by software and computers—a sector in which crypto-related outputs play a major role—accounts for almost twice that produced by the entire aviation industry, according to recent studies.
Members of the Solana Foundation, the organization that oversees the wellbeing of the decentralized Solana network, hope that by taking the lead in disclosing their own network’s impact on the climate, they can encourage other networks to do the same—and change how crypto users think about their relationship to the environment in the process.
“I would love for this to become an industry standard,” Policy Lead Amira Valliani told Decrypt. “We should be honest about what emissions look like. If you know what is going on at the blockchain level as a user, you can make conscious decisions about your usage of that chain.”
But making that information publicly available for all crypto users will require the active participation of most major blockchain networks in disclosing their carbon footprint.
Thanks to publicly available on-chain data, analysts can make estimates as to the environmental impact of certain blockchains. But without data volunteered by participants in particular networks, those estimates may ultimately be inaccurate.
“That data is often either underestimated or overestimated, but there's never certainty around it,” Hayagriv Sridharan, co-founder and CEO of Trycarbonara, told Decrypt. “We can model any blockchain without its foundation’s support, but that data is not going to be as accurate or as fruitful as when we have a better collaboration.”
The debate rages
Sridharan is optimistic that other blockchains will follow Solana’s example and provide that support. But potentially complicating matters is the willingness of participants in proof-of-work networks like Bitcoin—which tend to use far, far more energy than proof-of-stake networks like Solana and Ethereum—to voluntarily expose their livelihoods to additional scrutiny by environmental advocates.
Proof-of-stake blockchains let validators—who deposit (or stake) sizable amounts of crypto into a network—to process on-chain transactions and generate new cryptocurrency in the process. However, proof-of-work blockchains require miners to process transactions by directing tremendous amounts of computer power at difficult-to-solve puzzles, which reward winners with new crypto.
A single Bitcoin transaction, for reference, consumes 5.79 million times the energy emitted by a proof-of-stake Solana transaction, according to Trycarbonara. And as reward supplies of proof-of-work cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin grow more and more finite, the difficulty levels of those puzzles—and the energy required to solve them—are only increasing.
Last week, the Texas Senate passed a bill limiting the ability of Bitcoin miners to drain energy from the precarious Texas energy grid during demand spikes. A North Carolina county is currently mulling a one-year ban on cryptocurrency mining to assess the practice’s negative environmental effects.
Some of the backlash around the environmental impact of crypto has quieted since Ethereum’s successful “merge” last fall, which transitioned the network from its long-running proof-of-work model to proof-of-stake. The move cut Ethereum’s estimated carbon footprint by over 99.99%, per the Crypto Carbon Ratings Institute.
However, the broader debate flared up again recently after a controversial New York Times article examined the environmental toll of Bitcoin mining. The story was slammed by critics as “false and misleading,” “politically-driven,” and as a “hit piece” constituting a “monument of intellectual laziness.”
Some Bitcoiners claim that such reports don’t consider the amount of clean energy used to mine Bitcoin, or what they see as a positive impact on grid stability. Other crypto advocates note that centralized industries don’t provide transparency into energy usage, making it impossible to provide a true comparison to the traditional banking system or the footprint of tech giants, for example.
Clearly, the topic remains a sensitive one on both sides of the debate. But a tracker like Solana’s is another step forward for transparency and increased accuracy of energy reporting in the Web3 world. What impact it will have, though, is up to individual crypto users to decide.
“We can't compel people to do anything. Ultimately, people make their own choices,” Valliani said. “That’s how a decentralized environment works. But decentralization can also actually empower people who really care about this stuff to make a difference.”