My high-tech remorse


Remorse I love gadgets. I can’t help it. But lately my obsession with high tech devices has started to feel like a guilty pleasure. It’s getting harder to ignore the fact that my passion is killing the planet.

For folks like me who enjoy adding the latest gear to their lives, the news isn’t good. All of our high tech little buddies – cell phone, cordless phones, wireless routers, laptops, game systems etc., consume power – lots of power. Worse yet, they consume it even when they aren’t turned on and doing the things we want them to do. According to a recent study, a full 5-10% of our household energy use comes from "the little red light", an indicator that a device is plugged in and waiting to be used… "standing by".

As someone who recently got religion on energy consumption at home – I’ve now swapped out all of the incandescent bulbs in the house with CFL’s where it was possible – this has been a rude awakening. Currently the only answer to this dilemma is to run around the house unplugging all of these devices when they aren’t in active use. Think about what that would mean if we were to strictly stick to this regime:

  • Your remote control could only be used to adjust your TV/stereo once it was plugged in.
  • Your microwave and VCR (if you still have one) will always blink "12:00" at you.
  • Your cordless phone would be useless for answering phone calls since the base station would need to remain unplugged until the phone rang – assuming you had a non-cordless phone elsewhere in the house to let you know the phone was ringing in the first place
  • Your VCR/PVR could never record a single program for you while you are away

I’m sure you’ve already thought of some other inconveniences.

Power I’m beginning to think that the oversized outlets they use in the UK and elsewhere with dedicated power switches aren’t so ugly. Well, they’re still ugly – but super practical. Does such a thing exist in Canada?

Here’s a note for people looking to buy a new big-screen TV. Big screens can often mean big energy bills. I dug up a US government report that lists energy consumption ratings on TVs and VCRs that were on the market in 1999. Most people looking to upgrade their sets are probably using one from this time. According to the document, an average 27" CRT-based TV uses 90 watts actively, and 4.9 watts when in stand-by mode. Compare this to stats for a Panasonic 50" plasma TV (which I bought recently): 499 watts actively and 0.2 watts in stand-by.  The improvement in stand-by consumption is significant. But look at the active numbers. In order to get a TV viewing experience that is 85% bigger, you have to consume 454% more energy! The numbers are less scary for LCD and rear-projection TVs.

You’re probably wondering why I went with plasma given these stats. Unfortunately for now, plasma is still king in terms of price and picture quality when you’re dealing with TVs over 42" in size, at least according to CNET.com. So I rationalized it. I figured the drop in standby consumption would offset the increase in active consumption since we are not heavy TV watchers (I much prefer movies for the mostpart).

Is there a way to enjoy the conveniences that new technologies bring to our lives without putting even greater demands on the planet’s non-renewable resources? Share your thoughts below, and don’t forget to check out LiveEarth for more info on how to get green.

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6 comments

  1. Hawk

    Wow…the fact that so much energy is used by a simple light makes me feel kind of guilty, too. I have an MP3 player that recharges rather than using disposable batteries-I'm not sure if it's better for the environment, since it would use some of the energy going into the computer.

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  2. Mike

    give me a break the world as been in crising for over 1000 years if not more dont believe all this hunk and junk of global warming its been around for years

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  3. Pierre Laberge

    Mark:

    It is too bad that the engineers do not design our things to use less power.

    It is also too bad most of them do not have a bay for a 9v rechargeable battery, like most alarms clocks do.

    It is a real drudge to always have to reset the microwave, VCR, DVD, TV and etc… clocks, calendars, and default settings after a power failure.

    I was even thinking of getting a UPS for the TV/ CVR/ DVD and so on components. I wonder if you could recommend a good make and model?

    I went to the APS website, but the info they needed keyed in was so long, and complex that I gave up.
    Pierre

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  4. becca

    Not so sure about the CFL bulbs. I suppose in summer they could be good, but that's 3 months of the year. The rest of the year you would lose the heat otherwise given off by a standard bulb, which is powered by electricity (clean to use and some of which is cleanly produced), and have to turn up the thermostat, using heat often generated by oil. Kind of like how my city wants to ban the stores from giving out plastic bags for your merchandise, which just means I will have to spend my money buying white kitchen trash can bags instead of using free grocery bags. Still sending the plastic to the landfill, but at greater cost to me. And no more could I stop in at a store that looked interesting on my way home from work unless I had planned my shoping in advance and brought my own bags.

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  5. Pagerboy

    Also those CFL bulbs use mercury! That isn't bad for the environment? Instead of burning natural gas or oil you can use electricity but how is it made, burning coal or nuclear? Not any better! They need to make wind and solar power plants and some that use the tides to make energy.

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  6. Ray

    Hey Marc, Regarding the wattage vampire, there are ways of reducing the grid strain and the personal footprint at the same time.

    We all know that the cost of an individual to go solar or wind power is not quite realistic at this point in time but one could do a partial and get the vampire effect in check till the big boys and girls (companies) get there stuff together. Like we all need a clock on every gadget we own.

    Any how here's what could be done at a limited cost. The trick would be in the set-up. one would have to use designated wiring for those things we would want to control. Next would be to install a switch that would snap you off of the grid and onto the small solar bank that you have installed at a minimal cost.

    The Idea behind all of this is simple. During peak or daytime hours you would naturally be switched to the grid and using the wattage required to run your gadgets. At night however when most people are in LaLa land the vampires would have been switched to a small solar bank to keep a minimal amount of juice running to them to keep their memory up and their settings and clocks going. A small solar bank could handle this easily and the vampire effect becomes nill on the grid, so there you have it, you've reduced your consumption and your footprint while keeping the vampires fed.

    Sure, like always there is a cost, but the cost and tech-savvy are pretty minimal and if some folks would be willing to share there savvy with there neighbours, everyone could have one of these systems. Ya Baby, Go Green!
    See Ya, Ray.

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