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The 99% energy drop since the Ethereum merger, yet lingering concerns about centralization

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Energy consumption has taken a nosedive, while staking activities are soaring. Nevertheless, a challenging technical landscape looms ahead for Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization.

A year following its historic shift to a proof-of-stake protocol, Ethereum has witnessed a remarkable reduction in energy consumption and a substantial enhancement in network accessibility. However, several technical challenges continue to shape the path forward.

The monumental event known as “The Merge” unfolded on September 15, 2022, marking the convergence of Ethereum’s mainnet with a distinct proof-of-stake blockchain known as the Beacon Chain. The most conspicuous transformation following The Merge was Ethereum’s transition from an energy-intensive proof-of-work (PoW) consensus mechanism to PoS, leading to a dramatic reduction in its overall power consumption.

Data sourced from The Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance reveals that Ethereum’s energy consumption plummeted by over 99.9%, plummeting from the approximately 21 terawatt hours of electricity it consumed under PoW.

Additionally, Ethereum’s economic landscape underwent a transformation, evolving into a deflationary ecosystem. This means that the issuance of new Ether (ETH) to secure the network has been outpaced by the amount of ETH permanently removed from circulation.

According to ultrasound.money, over 300,000 ETH (equivalent to $488 million at current market prices) has been “burned” since The Merge. At the present rate of burn, the total ETH supply is dwindling at an annual rate of 0.25%.

Despite expectations of a substantial surge in ETH prices in response to this deflationary pressure, various macroeconomic challenges, including banking crises and surging inflation, tempered these hopes. Notably, Ethereum’s growth paled in comparison to Bitcoin’s (BTC) meteoric rise in the first quarter of the year, as the flagship cryptocurrency seemed to benefit from traditional financial instability stemming from the banking crisis.

Beyond price movements, the central focus of the proof-of-stake upgrade was the introduction of “stakers” in lieu of traditional miners to secure the network.

The subsequent “Shapella” upgrade in April 2023 witnessed a massive influx of ETH toward staking. Prominent beneficiaries of this shift include liquid staking providers such as Lido and Rocket Pool.

Liquid staking has since assumed a dominant position within the Ethereum ecosystem, with data from DefiLlama indicating that over $19.5 billion worth of ETH is currently staked through liquid staking protocols. As of now, Lido reigns supreme, accounting for a staggering 72% of all staked ETH.

However, while the transition to staking has been lauded for eliminating the need for expensive, sophisticated mining hardware, concerns have arisen regarding the level of control granted to staking providers, particularly Lido Finance.

“Liquid staking is ultimately beneficial for network governance, ensuring that control isn’t monopolized by the affluent. Nonetheless, it has brought about its own set of challenges,” noted Labry CEO Lachlan Feeny.

At least five Ethereum liquid staking providers are actively pursuing a 22% limit rule in a bid to maintain decentralization, although Lido opted not to participate.

It’s worth noting that Lido’s decision, with a resounding 99.81% majority, not to self-limit in June has led to concerns of staking providers aiming to exert significant influence over the beacon chain’s validators.

This development has sparked widespread apprehension about the potential centralization of validation within the Ethereum network.

Feeny concluded, “Presently, Lido controls 32.26% of all staked Ether, valued at over $14 billion. While I remain optimistic about Ethereum’s future with liquid staking, there are numerous hurdles yet to be overcome.”

Feeny also highlighted that Ethereum’s most immediate challenge lies in the escalating regulatory scrutiny of the crypto and blockchain industry in the United States.

“Regulatory bodies, particularly in the U.S., seem determined to curtail the U.S.-based blockchain sector,” he remarked. “If blockchain companies face excessive hurdles operating in the U.S., it would be detrimental not only to Ethereum but to the global blockchain community as a whole.”

Apart from staking concerns, another pressing issue revolves around client diversity. On September 5th, Vitalik Buterin addressed the audience at Korea Blockchain Week, outlining six key problems that need to be addressed to combat centralization.

Presently, the majority of Ethereum’s 5,901 active nodes are operated through centralized web providers like Amazon Web Services. This reliance on centralized infrastructure exposes the Ethereum blockchain to a single point of failure, a critical vulnerability.

Buterin’s vision for maintaining Ethereum’s long-term decentralization involves making it easier for everyday individuals to run nodes. This entails substantial reductions in costs and hardware requirements for node operators.

Buterin proposed the concept of “statelessness,” which reduces data requirements for node operators to near-zero, eliminating the reliance on centralized servers.

“While my primary concern is the issue of centralization,” Buterin explained, “These challenges may not find resolution for another 10 to 20 years.

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