Originally Published: 9/24/2009
By The Issue Wonk
I’ve been driving all my friends crazy for years yammering about energy eaters, those electronic gizmos that suck-up energy for no reason. A recent article in The New York Times fired me up. So, now I’m going to bug everyone.
According to the Energy Information Agency at the U.S. Department of Energy, more than 50% of U.S. electricity comes from coal- or oil-powered plants. We all know about the pollution that these emit. And we all know about the environmental costs of digging out the coal and fighting wars to get our hands on the oil. But somehow we seem to miss the connection between our use of electricity in our homes and environmental destruction and the loss of human life. I’m here to point that out.
We know that energy savings that can be achieved by replacing your furnace and/or air conditioner with an energy-efficient one, or replacing the water heater, or installing new windows, but these are very expensive items and people are reluctant to replace them if they’re still working. Still, there are many little things you can do to get rid of the energy eaters. The New York Times1 article I mentioned above points out how much electricity we waste daily.
Electricity use from power-hungry gadgets is rising fast all over the world. The fancy new flat-panel televisions everyone has been buying in recent years have turned out to be bigger power hogs than some refrigerators.
The proliferation of personal computers, iPods, cellphones, game consoles and all the rest amounts to the fastest-growing source of power demand in the world. Americans now have about 25 consumer electronic products in every household, compared with just 3 in 1980.
Worldwide, consumer electronics now represent 15% of household power demand, and that is expected to triple over the next 2 decades, according to the International Energy Agency, making it more difficult to tackle the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming.
To satisfy the demand from gadgets will require building the equivalent of 560 coal-fired power plants, or 230 nuclear plants, according to the agency.
Yeah, Houston, we have a problem. To make matters worse, “many products now require large amounts of power to run.”1
The biggest offender is the flat-screen television. As liquid crystal displays and plasma technologies replace the old cathode ray tubes, and as screen sizes increase, the new televisions need more power than older models do. And with all those gorgeous new televisions in their living rooms, Americans are spending more time than ever watching TV, averaging five hours a day.
What if you’re completely narcissistic and don’t give a damn about the environment or wars or wasted human life? I’d bet you still care a hell of a lot about money. So, let’s look at what all this crap costs you.
According to a publication by my local power company, the biggest energy eaters are computer and television equipment. Here are the average annual costs:
Each cable or satellite box - about $15
A stereo system - about $15
Each DVD and VCR - about $8
Each computer - about $2
Each printer - about $8
Each modem and router - about $15
Each rear-projection TV - about $20
Each plasma TV - about $16
Assuming you have 1 of each of these, that’s almost $100 annually, almost $10 a month. Not much, huh? Not enough to make you give up something? Hell, you’ve got a good job. You can afford $10 a month for all these luxuries. So what if people are dying to give you an instant-on television. It’s not your problem, is it? Shame on you.
But this isn’t all of it. What about all the other gadgets? Got a cellphone? Of course you do. Do you keep the charger plugged in all the time, just so it can charge your phone a few hours a day? Did you know that when it’s plugged in, whether or not it’s charging your phone, it’s drawing electricity? Yup. Unplug it when not in use.
Look around your home at all those digital clocks. How many do you need to tell you what time it is? Clock radio. Microwave. Coffee pot. DVD and VCR players. Each one costs about $3 a year. Even your garage door opener costs you about $5 a year. And what about all those cordless telephones? Ever notice that they’re charging all the time? Hell, you’re at work, remember? Or using your cellphone. Why do you need 3 phones in your home all charging all the time when you never use them?
What can you do without ruining your life? First, put your television and computer systems on power strips and turn the entire system off. Better yet, get one of the smart power strips that turn things off automatically when the electronics are not in use. As to the televisions and game players, reduce the time you spend in front of them. Read a book. Play with your children. Take a walk. You don’t need to be entertained constantly.
Only plug in your cellphone charger when you’re charging your phone. Get an old-fashioned, corded telephone. If you’re talking to a friend, sit down, relax, and talk to your friend. You really don’t need to walk around the house. Give your friend the courtesy of paying attention to the conversation.
Do you really need a clock radio to wake you up in the morning? Spend $10 and get a wind-up alarm clock.
Unplug everything you can and plug it in when you need it. Maybe you won’t save yourself enough money to buy a new car, but if everyone did this we’d save a boatload of money nationwide and maybe save the planet, too.
And, one more very important thing. Lightbulbs. The march is on to replace the incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) and this is good. I imagine that almost everyone has replaced at least some of their old bulbs with CFLs. Good for you. Now I’m gonna bust your bubble.
According to the World Watch Institute2, about 85% of CFLs are manufactured in China. I was unable to determine where the other 15% are made, but was able to determine that many come from Mexico. And I found several mentions of the fact that none are made in the U.S. That means that big-ass tankers, spewing pollutants, are crossing the seas to deliver our CFLs. By purchasing these little diddies we’re supporting China and Chinese workers. Great. And you know all those power strips you’re going to rush out and buy? As far as I can determine, they’re all made in other countries, primarily Asia but some in Mexico.
This is a perfect opportunity to step in and support U.S. manufacturing. Start, or invest, in a company manufacturing CFLs, or some of the new energy-saving light emitting technologies that are coming out, and power strips. Think about it. A U.S. business employing U.S. workers, supplying energy-saving products, and reducing pollution and the need for wars. I'd say it’d be a great investment – for the U.S., for your children, for your grandchildren. For the future. Think about it.
1 Mouawad, Jad & Galbraith, Kate. By Degrees: Plugged-In Age Feeds a Hunger for Electricity. The New York Times, September 19, 2009.
2 McKeown, Alice. Strong Growth in Compact Fluorescent Bulbs Reduces Electricity Demand. World Watch Institute, October 27, 2008.
© The Issue Wonk, 2009