Bitcoin Miners Need New Use Cases to Sustain Network Security and Profitability

Bitcoin Miners Need New Use Cases to Sustain Network Security and Profitability

The security of the Bitcoin network hinges on the continuous addition of new blocks to the blockchain, a task that miners are financially incentivized to perform. Miners’ revenues come from transaction fees included in the blocks they mine and from the block subsidy. However, this block subsidy, which halves approximately every four years (most recently on April 19, 2024), is designed to diminish over time, eventually reaching zero. The goal is for transaction fees to eventually become the primary source of miners’ income.

The Impact of Halving on Miners’ Profitability and Industry Consolidation

The reduction of the block subsidy significantly affects miners’ profitability, often driving industry consolidation. Miners can offset declining revenue per block by increasing their share of blocks mined, achievable through upgrading equipment, expanding locations, or acquiring other entities. Miners who have been more profitable and those with valuable BTC reserves are in the best position to make such investments. Conversely, less profitable operations, especially those with higher energy costs, may be forced to shut down. Miners are also exploring partnerships to provide load-balancing to energy grids, which can enhance the economics of renewable energy projects by stabilizing demand through flexible mining operations.

The State of Bitcoin Transaction Activity

Following the approval of spot Bitcoin ETFs by the SEC in early 2023, Bitcoin’s price surged, and transaction volumes increased as institutional investors entered the market. Chainalysis reports that the Lightning Network, a Bitcoin scaling solution, saw a threefold increase in open channels during 2023, indicating growing network utility. Additionally, a recent IMF working paper highlights Bitcoin’s significant role in cross-border financial flows.

Despite these developments, data from Coin Metrics shows that between January’s ETF approval and April’s halving, transaction fees accounted for only 6% of miner revenues, leaving miners highly dependent on the block subsidy. Bitcoin’s limited scalability and functionality compared to other blockchains, like Ethereum and Solana, have hindered its ability to significantly boost transaction fees. Unlike these other blockchains, Bitcoin is not designed to support smart contracts and thus does not benefit from the decentralized finance (DeFi), tokenization, and stablecoin payment trends driving activity on those platforms. So far, Bitcoin’s primary use cases—peer-to-peer payments and trading—have not generated sufficient transaction fee revenue.

Emerging Use Cases and Technological Developments

The future of Bitcoin’s functionality relies on technological advancements within its ecosystem. For instance, the Runes protocol, which supports fungible tokens, was introduced on the same day as the recent halving and led to a spike in transaction fees. Similarly, the launch of Ordinals inscriptions in 2023, which brought non-fungible token (NFT) capabilities to Bitcoin, temporarily boosted fees due to speculative trading activities. These innovations indicate potential for Bitcoin to compete with other blockchains by facilitating tokenization in financial markets. Additionally, emerging layer-2 solutions, which batch multiple transactions before settling them on the main Bitcoin blockchain, could address scalability issues and support new DeFi or tokenization use cases.

Identifying and cementing a successful new use case before the next halving is crucial for these emerging functionalities to have a lasting impact. In the long term, Bitcoin proponents envision it as a global reserve asset and a neutral means of exchange in a network of AI-driven economic agents. In the meantime, stable and higher transaction revenues for miners are essential to sustain the network, making the development of practical technological solutions a critical priority.

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