As the world's second-largest cryptocurrency, Ethereum (CRYPTO:ETHhas a following that may even be stronger in some ways than that of Bitcoin (CRYPTO:BTC). The Ethereum blockchain happens to be the building block upon which a range of stable coins, dApps, decentralized exchanges, and NFT exchanges (we'll get to that in a minute) are built on.

Investors who bought into Ethereum five years ago are currently up more than 270-fold. That kind of incredible capital appreciation is extremely rare within any asset class. However, even after this historic run, there's reason to believe that Ethereum could still have plenty of upside ahead for long-term investors. That is, assuming Ethereum can find a way to swap with Bitcoin, taking over the top spot in the crypto world. That event -- called "the flippening" -- is something many in the crypto space have predicted for a very long time.

Let's discuss three reasons why Ethereum remains a top pick of many crypto investors right now.

Ethereum logo in front of a cityscape.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

1.  Ethereum provides real-world applications

Perhaps the key ingredient to Ethereum's success is its inclusion of smart contracts since its inception . Way back in 2013, Vitalik Buterin saw the importance of providing ways for a cryptocurrency network to execute transactions immediately upon some agreed-upon conditions being met. This functionality spurred a range of real-world applications that extend from finance to insurance, healthcare, and other large sectors waiting to be disrupted.

Being an open-source, decentralized blockchain has its advantages for those holding ETH tokens. As Ethereum becomes the go-to platform upon which developers build dApps or crypto-focused projects, Ethereum's network effect grows.

Accordingly, the utility Ethereum provides is real and tangible. Other cryptocurrencies struggle with this concept. While other cryptocurrencies do possess currency-like features, decentralized finance and the real-world applications that Ethereum has unlocked is a game changer in so many respects. 

The fact that Ethereum powers an incredible number of important, high-profile crypto projects right now leads investors to the idea that owning the basic building blocks of the cryptocurrency ecosystem is a good idea. Indeed, that's a hard concept to argue against.

2. Ethereum will be (more) green very shortly

Perhaps one of the biggest arguments against cryptocurrency ownership or acceptance as of late is the sheer amount of energy required to power these blockchain networks. Even one of the most bullish influencers in the crypto world, Elon Musk, took to Twitter to push for change on this issue. 

Ethereum's rise as one of the earliest cryptocurrencies meant a proof-of-work crypto mining model was necessary. Miners, or those verifying transactions across the blockchain, needed to be rewarded for doing so. After all, there are costs to adding the computing power necessary to make a network to begin with. 

However, with the crypto world having seemingly evolved to near-ubiquitous status among investors, Ethereum looks to change its ways. The cryptocurrency network announced an Ethereum Improvement Proposal 3554 (or EIP-3554, for short) to switch to a proof-of-stake model. 

By allowing Ethereum users to stake their existing Ethereum tokens to verify transactions, a significant energy reduction is seen across the blockchain. Those who stake their tokens will be rewarded in a similar way (via more ETH tokens). However, the amount of energy consumed across the blockchain will drop dramatically, a good thing for those looking to make passive income from their holdings without putting up the capital for mining rigs and handling the ongoing power costs associated with mining. The total energy reduction across the Ethereum network is estimated by the Ethereum foundation to be roughly 99.95%.

This move is expected to vastly improve the social costs of crypto mining (and indirectly, crypto ownership). Those looking to own a greener, leaner cryptocurrency may start shifting toward mega-cap Ethereum as the primary choice over Bitcoin for this reason alone.

3. Ethereum powers the NFT world

Perhaps the biggest buzzword in the crypto world right now is NFT (non-fungible token). NFTs rose to popularity over the past year, due to the rapid rise in the valuations of these digital assets. Famously, a non-fungible token was sold earlier this year for a whopping $69 million.  These sorts of price tags tend to invite speculators to the party quickly.

As it happens, Ethereum powers some of the biggest and most well-known NFT marketplaces right now. Among these, opensea.io has seen incredible volume of late. NFT investors appear to like the flexibility of using Ethereum to trade their artwork. However, other cryptocurrencies such as Solana (CRYPTO:SOL) are popping up as competitors in the race for NFT market share.

Will Ethereum be able to crowd out the competition in these growing crypto markets? Time will tell. However, investors looking to bet on the biggest and most robust ecosystem certainly have their fair share of reasons to consider Ethereum right now.

Final Thought

The cryptocurrency space is certainly a volatile one to begin with. Investors intrigued by what the cryptocurrency space has to offer may want to give Ethereum a look. After all, this is one of the most robust and open platforms upon which so much of the crypto ecosystem is built.

Like any speculative high-risk, high-reward investment, crypto investors should always remember to stay within their limits. These are digital assets that have boomed and crashed in spectacular fashion in the past. Putting all of one's eggs into such a basket may not be great, particularly for those with lower risk tolerance thresholds.

That said, there's certainly a strong argument to be made that Ethereum fits well as a core position in a well-managed crypto portfolio.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.