Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Number of Electrical Devices Explodes, Sucks World's Electricity

Save electricity all you want. The growing number of gadgets in your home will eat up those savings.

Electricity use is surging all over the world, says this New York Times article. All those iPods, flat-panel TVs, video game boxes and PCs are sucking up energy faster than we can produce it.

And not all of these devices are stingy with their power usage. Some flat-panel TVs soak up more electricity than do refrigerators.

Worldwide, consumer electronics is expected to make up 45% of household electricity demand in the next 20 years. To feed all those power-hungry devices, we'll need the equivalent of 560 coal-fired power plants or 230 nuclear plants, according to the International Energy Agency. The Times article contains a link to the IEA's report.

If the world doesn't want to build that many power plants, governments will have to start imposing energy-efficiency standards for consumer electronics. Refrigerators have them; why not electronic gadgets?

That must be what California regulators asked themselves, because the California Energy Commission recently proposed regulations that would drastically reduce energy usage of TVs sold in the state. The commission proposed that TVs sold after January 1, 2011 use 33% less electricity than current models. By 2013, that number will rise to 49%.

As usual, technology comes to the rescue. Or promises to. New LED (light-emitting diode) flat-panel TVs consume far less power than their LCD (liquid crystal display) brethren. In one Samsung LCD model, power consumption dropped from 170W to 100W when it was converted to an LED type.

But then, LED TVs are still about 1.5 to 2 times the cost of LCD TVs. By 2011, this gap may shrink as more manufacturers get into the LED game.

The makers of consumer electronics have taken many steps over the years to cut their energy consumption footprint. But just as cars and fridges made no great strides in energy efficiency until governments set down mandates, consumer electronics may become better at managing power given more regulations like California's.

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