Mejia: Technology lags behind green movement

Green is in. Everywhere you look, you see efforts to reduce the environmental footprint humans create. But it seems technology has yet to catch onto the green movement.

Sure, recycling programs from computer manufacturers exist and LCDs are more power-efficient than old-fashioned tube televisions and computer monitors. But the increasingly “always-on” mode of modern-day electronics can be somewhat difficult to reconcile with the idea of environmentalism.

The “always-on” nature of the Internet and consumer electronics requires devices to be constantly drawing power from the grid, even when no one is using them. Although this is incredibly convenient, it’s more than a little wasteful. For example, “phantom loads,” such as televisions, game consoles on standby and devices like cell-phone chargers, account for as much 5 percent of residential power consumption, according to Energy Magazine Online. And data centers, the large server rooms that serve as the backbone of the Internet, account for as much 2 percent of the combined total power consumption of the United States and Europe. It seems only likely that these numbers will grow as well, with more electronics having standby modes and consumers now having multiple devices to charge all the time. As consumers obtain higher bandwidth connections and the Internet becomes more multimedia-oriented, surely the number of data centers will only increase.

Environmentally friendly technology needs to become an important consideration for consumers. While the focus on environmentally friendly automobiles is good and most certainly necessary, electronics and other consumer goods have been somewhat ignored. The majority of technological innovation is focused on creating more powerful, faster versions of equipment, as opposed to efficient, environmentally friendly goods. Currently, efficient operation isn’t a large priority for many companies. In the realm of consumer electronics, a few companies have tried to create green products. For instance, Dell came out with the Studio Hybrid computer, a small computer meant for the living room. Some energy-saving technologies, such as Light Emitting Diode Technology, have been researched, too. LED technology, which can be used to power anything from TVs to home lighting, will save more energy than CFLs, and LED bulbs last for hundreds of thousands of hours, as compared to the few thousands that conventional bulbs last. But overall, energy efficiency and low-polluting packaging seem to be an afterthought. For example, the environmental information about Apple’s iMac is buried in its technical specifications page.

But it’s easy to see why things are this way. There isn’t really much incentive for a manufacturer to focus on efficiency when it isn’t really desired. As opposed to cars, for which the impact of a hybrid drive train is very large and noticeable, an mp3 player that consumes 20 percent less power isn’t a draw for consumers. Further, the energy efficiency of a computer or another electronic device comes at a cost to its speed. For example, Intel’s Atom processors, while consuming a tiny fraction of the power required by their desktop Core series processors, run very slowly compared to their larger cousins. But while a few watts saved can seem tiny, the overall contribution to energy savings could be just as important as other ways of being green.

If consumers ask for environmentally friendly forms of technology, maybe companies will begin to invest in them, just as the auto industry has begun to invest in alternative fuel sources. But until consumers want low power consumption and energy efficiency, environmentalism will remain an afterthought in technology.

Comments

  • Sumir Karayi

    Chris,

    In many cases Green technology has been around for a long time but getting the market interested takes time. Take for instance a subject I know fairly well, energy waste from Personal Computers. We commissioned Harris research to study PC usage patterns in businesses across the US and found that over $1.7bn can be saved annually just by switching off 1/3 of corporate PCs overnight and over weekends. This equates to 15 million Tons of CO2 or roughly the emissions from all the cars in the state of Maryland.

    There are many factors why PCs are not turned-off regularly and intelligent technology is required to ensure energy is saved where possible. The interesting point here is that we wrote this technology, NightWatchman, 8 years ago and prove it’s benefits in some of the largest organisations in the world. Yet, mainstream interest has only really developed over the last couple of years as Green has come in vogue.

    This leaves me wondering how many other technologies already exist which can help reduce energy waste, if only we were to look for them.

    Best wishes
    Sumir

    CEO, 1E
    sumirk@1e.com
    http://www.1e.com