Cryptocurrency mining is painstaking, expensive, and only sporadically rewarding. Nonetheless, mining has a magnetic draw for many investors interested in cryptocurrency. This may be because entrepreneurial types see mining as pennies from heaven, like California gold prospectors in 1848. And if you are technologically inclined, why not do it?
Well, before you invest the time and equipment, read this explainer to see whether mining is really for you. We will focus primarily on Bitcoin.
What is Bitcoin Mining?
By mining, you can earn cryptocurrency without having to put down money for it. That said, you certainly don’t have to be a miner to own crypto. You can also buy crypto using fiat currency (USD, EUR, JPY, etc); you can trade it on an exchange like Bitstamp using other crypto (example: Using Ethereum or NEO to buy Bitcoin); you even can earn it by playing video games or by publishing blogposts on platforms that pay its users in crypto. An example of the latter is Steemit, which is kind of like Medium except that users can reward bloggers by paying them in a proprietary cryptocurrency called Steem. Steem can then be traded elsewhere for Bitcoin.
In addition to lining the pockets of miners, mining serves a second and vital purpose: It is the only way to release new cryptocurrency into circulation. In other words, miners are basically “minting” currency. For example, as of the time of writing this piece, there were about 17 million Bitcoin in circulation. Aside from the coins minted via the genesis block (the very first block created by Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto himself), every single one of those Bitcoin came into being because of miners. In the absence of miners, Bitcoin would still exist and be usable, but there would never be any additional Bitcoin. There will come a time when Bitcoin mining ends; per the Bitcoin Protocol, the number of Bitcoin will be capped at 21 million. (Related reading: What Happens to Bitcoin After All 21 Million are Mined?)
Aside from the short-term Bitcoin payoff, being a miner can give you “voting” power when changes are proposed in the Bitcoin protocol. In other words, a successful miner has influence on the decision-making process on such matters as forking.
How much can a miner earn from mining Bitcoin?
Bitcoin are mined in units called “blocks.” As of the time of writing, the reward for completing a block is 12.5 Bitcoin. At today’s price of about $10,000 per Bitcoin, this means you’d earn (12.5 x 10,000)=$125,000.
When Bitcoin was first mined in 2009, mining one block would earn you 50 BTC. In 2012, this was halved to 25 BTC. in 2016, this was halved to the current level of 12.5 BTC. In 2020 or so, the reward size will be halved again to 6.25 BTC.