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What are Bitcoin Block Rewards?

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Bitcoin Blocks Depicting Rewards
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The process of mining bitcoin has an essential part of the Bitcoin protocol since the blockchain's inception. It plays a crucial role in ensuring that the network processes transactions and runs smoothly.

At the crux of the process is a reward system for miners that has existed since Bitcoin's inception. But just what are Bitcoin block rewards, and what role do they play in the mining economy?

Defining Bitcoin Block Rewards and Transaction Fees

Bitcoin block rewards are bitcoins given as a reward for mining a block of BTC. It serves as an important incentive for Bitcoin miners to continue mining blocks and validate transactions, which are both crucial components of the Bitcoin network.

A miner who successfully solves Bitcoin’s algorithm (SHA-256) and adds a new block to the blockchain is rewarded with block rewards comprising block subsidies. Block subsidies are newly minted bitcoin distributed at a fixed rate of 6.25 bitcoins per block until the next Bitcoin halving occurs in 2024 when subsidies will be cut in half. 

In addition to the block reward, miners also receive transaction fees for including transactions in a block. When users send bitcoins from one address to another, they have the option to attach a fee to their transaction. This fee is paid to the miners to prioritize the transaction's inclusion in the next block. Transaction fees are determined by market dynamics and can vary depending on factors such as network congestion and transaction size. 

What does Bitcoin Mining have to do with Block Rewards?

Bitcoin mining is a critical process in the Bitcoin network that involves creating and adding new blocks to the blockchain. Miners gather valid transactions from a pool of unconfirmed transactions known as the mempool. They then work to solve a complex mathematical problem to create a new block. This block is then broadcasted to the network, and if the majority of nodes agree that the block is valid, it is added to the blockchain. Block creation, or mining, occurs approximately every 10 minutes.

Adding a new block to the blockchain confirms the transactions within the block and triggers the distribution of block rewards. The miner who successfully added the block to the blockchain is rewarded with newly minted Bitcoin and transaction fees from the transactions included in the block. Block rewards incentivize miners to continue ensuring the security and smooth operation of the Bitcoin network.

Bitcoin was designed to create a decentralized digital currency free from control by any central authority, such as governments or financial institutions. This is achieved through decentralized ledger technology (DLT) and a network of computers (e.g., bitcoin miners) that validate and record transactions on a public ledger. 

What is a Bitcoin Halving Event and How Does It Impact Block Rewards?

The mechanism that is programmatically built into the Bitcoin blockchain to control the rate at which new bitcoin is brought into circulation is called the Bitcoin Halving. It is a mechanism that is meant to ensure that the maximum supply of 21 million bitcoins is never exceeded. This phenomenon occurs every 210,000 blocks, or roughly every four years, where Bitcoin block rewards are continuously reduced by half.

Since Bitcoin miners are rewarded with block rewards in exchange for their computation and energy usage, reducing block rewards over time could impact profitability as rewards eventually approach zero. By the year 2140, block rewards are expected to seize, causing an ongoing debate on how important a robust fee market will be as fees slowly become a more significant portion of the block reward.

A Brief Bitcoin Halving History Ahead of 2024

  • The first halving took place on November 28, 2012 (Block 210,000), which reduced mining rewards for the first time from 50 bitcoins per block to 25. 
  • The second halving event (Block 420,000) occurred on July 9, 2016, reducing mining rewards from 25 to 12.5. 
  • The last Bitcoin halving event (Block 630,000) occurred on May 11, 2020, cutting mining rewards from 12.5 bitcoins to 6.25 bitcoin per block. 
  • The next Bitcoin halving (Block 840,000) will occur on April 24, reducing mining rewards from 6.25 bitcoins per block to 3.125.

Bitcoin Transaction Fees Versus Block Rewards for Miners

The breakdown of Bitcoin subsidies (issuance) and fees from 21 shares' Dune dashboard data shows that the percentage of revenue from fees has proliferated recently due to a surge in Bitcoin Ordinals and BRC-20 activity. This is in contrast to historically, where transfer transactions were the primary causes for spikes in fee revenue during periods of heightened volatility.

The impact of bitcoin halvings every four years will result in block subsidies trending towards zero following the last bitcoin halving estimated in 2140, with all remaining bitcoins being in circulation (e.g., 21,000,000 bitcoin). This emphasizes the importance of fees to complement and eventually replace rewards to incentivize miners.

Source: @21S hares

Is Bitcoin Mining Profitable in 2023?

Bitcoin mining profitability is determined by several factors, including the bitcoin price, hash rate, energy consumption, mining hardware, operational costs, block rewards, and transaction fees. A significant component of this profitability is the block reward, consisting of the block subsidy and transaction fees. As block subsidies decrease over time, miners increasingly rely on these transaction fees for profitability. Miners must also utilize economical energy and efficient hardware to improve profitability. 

Large mining pools that combine hash power produce the vast majority of Bitcoin blocks. Users who join these pools are more likely to earn rewards based on their pro-rata contribution. However, there have been instances of solo miners successfully producing a new block, earning the entire block subsidy. In January 2023, a sole miner using 4 inexpensive mining rigs won the block subsidy with only ~10 TH/s (terahashes per second) of hashing power. For perspective, Bitcoin’s total hashrate during this time was 269 exahashes per second, or 27 million times greater than that of the solo miner.

Block Rewards and the Bitcoin Network

As every halving event has decreased the amount of awarded BTC for each block, the future of the Bitcoin mining economy has increasingly become a point of discussion for miners and the wider Bitcoin ecosystem. More recently, however, the advent of the Ordinals protocol and other developments in the Bitcoin space have not only encouraged more people to participate in the network, but have also prompted discussions about how transaction fees can possibly offset effects from the halving process that takes place every 4 years. 

Nevertheless, block rewards are still integral to Bitcoin's ecosystem and the cryptocurrency. Only time will tell how the next halving events will truly affect the network.