We all love our gadgets – and love having more and more of them – but technophilia has a downside: Running all those gadgets takes energy.
A lot of it.
For individual consumers, that means higher electric bills. For society as a whole, it means increased generation of greenhouse gases.
Fortunately, energy experts say, you don't have to throw out your new LCD TV to curb your energy consumption. There are some easier, less painful steps you can take. And new technology either already on store shelves or coming online soon should help consumers cut their consumption even more, they say.
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A representative of the Consumer Electronics Association, an industry trade group, noted that the energy consumption of many individual products has come down considerably over time.
Energy consumed by gadgets is rising rapidly at a time when consumption by other appliances, such as refrigerators and air-conditioning units, has fallen markedly. In 2001, the average U.S. household used about 778 kilowatt-hours per year to power tech gadgets, about 7 percent of total electricity use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That was up from 6 percent, or 633 kilowatt-hours, in 1997.
Part of the increase reflects the proliferation of devices. DVRs, MP3 players and wireless routers have gone from exotic to commonplace over the past 10 years. Cell phones have grown in popularity. And many consumers have gone from having one PC at home to two or three.
Along the way, consumers have frequently replaced older tech product with ones that are bigger and faster – and which often consume more power. TVs with liquid crystal displays, for instance, are typically more efficient than older ones with cathode ray tubes. But consumers often replace their older TVs with much bigger ones, which reduces any efficiency gains.
With recent spikes in energy prices, growing concern about global warming and prodding from regulators and advocates, the electronics industry has increasingly focused on efficiency issues, analysts say. Many devices now use less power in standby mode than they did before, for instance.
Mostly, though, it just takes awareness by consumers of how much energy their gadgets are using. And they have an incentive to do so: Conserving electricity saves money. Horowitz estimates that consumers can lower their power bills by 5 percent just by doing things like turning off gadgets.