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.
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.