Cover: Estimating the Energy Requirements to Operate a Cryptanalytically Relevant Quantum Computer

Estimating the Energy Requirements to Operate a Cryptanalytically Relevant Quantum Computer

Published Apr 28, 2023

by Edward Parker, Michael J. D. Vermeer

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The academic literature contains many estimates of the resources required to operate a cryptanalytically relevant quantum computer (CRQC) in terms of rather abstract quantities like the number of qubits. But to our knowledge, there have not been any estimates of these requirements in terms of more familiar economic resources like money or electricity. We demonstrate that the electrical energy required to break one cryptographic public key can be decomposed into the product of two factors. There is an extensive literature of previous estimates for one factor, the spacetime volume, that range over about six orders of magnitude; we discuss some interesting patterns in these estimates. We could not find any quantitative estimates at all for the other factor, the average power consumption per qubit. By combining several data points from existing superconducting-transmon quantum computers and extrapolating them to enormously larger scales, we make an extremely rough estimate of a plausible value of about six watts/qubit consumed by an eventual superconducting-transmon CRQC. By combining this estimate with a plausible spacetime volume estimate of 5.9 × 106 qubit-days from the prior literature, we estimate that — even after expending the enormous costs to build a CRQC — running it would require about 125 MW of electrical power, and using it to break one public key would cost about $64,000 for electricity alone at current prices. Even if a CRQC is eventually built, merely operating it would probably remain the domain of nation-states and large organizations for a significant period of time.

This research was sponsored by the National Risk Management Center (NRMC) of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and conducted by the Infrastructure, Immigration, and Security Operations Program within the RAND Homeland Security and Defense Center (HSRD).

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