How Much Energy Can a Gadget Minimalist Save?


Busy desk via AMagill via Flickr CC

It's no surprise that your overall electricity consumption has everything to do with how many devices you have to plug in. In fact, a new study by the International Energy Agency, says that energy used by household electronic devices could triple by 2030, thanks to our love of consumer gadgets. So just how much energy can you save by reducing your number of electronics? I took a look at the power consumption of different devices and lifestyles to find out. First, I measured the average energy used by a person with all the fixings (I've dubbed them "the Gottahavist") --TV, cable box, desktop, gaming console, and so on. Then I looked at an eco-geek who uses only a laptop and cell phone as seriously multi-function gadgets (i.e., "the Minimalist"). Obviously less is more, but just how much more?

The Gadget Gottahavist

Photo via abasketofpups via Flickr CC

When we think about the number of computing, communication, and entertainment devices a person can have, it can quickly feel overwhelming. So we're sticking with the more common items, and those that can be consolidated into what a gadget minimalist uses.

Most gadget lovers are going to have a particular set of devices that are used often, including:
a large television, TIVO or DVR, cable box, gaming console, PC, monitor, cell phone, mp3 player, and digital camera. And this is a conservative list. We're leaving out gadget lover's laundry list of devices for specific purposes, high end devices for things like stereo systems, duplicate devices like two computer monitors, and so on.

So, what is the typical power consumption of some of these common devices?

Television: 213-339 watts
The two most popular types of TVs right now are flat panel plasmas and LCDs. We know that plasmas consume quite a bit more than LCDs. According to CNET's testing, the average plasma uses around 339 watts, and the average LCD uses around 213 watts. Manufacturers are working diligently to bring these consumption levels down, including meeting Energy Star requirements that they draw less than 1 watt when turned off, but a lot of the energy use lies in the power settings, which few users adjust to maximize energy use.

(CNET also has a cool HDTV comparison chart to check out if you want more info.)

Cable box: 30 watts
A study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in 2007 showed that even basic cable boxes consume more energy in a single year than a washing machine - an appliance that we're often hemming and hawing about in terms of resource consumption. And that isn't looking at cable boxes with integrated DVRs or HD capability. Also, the study found that consume pretty much the same amount of energy whether they are on or off - which is about 30 watts - and that means the potential to minimize energy consumption is pretty much nil.

Gaming Console: 180 watts
A 2008 NRDC study found some interesting statistics on gaming console use. They took a look at the three most popular units - the Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation2, and Nintendo Wii - and compared energy use. The Wii uses a fraction of the power of the PlayStation2 or Xbox 360; however, many people with a spirit for gaming aren't satisfied with a Wii.

When a gaming console is used, therefore, it's drawing about 170-190 watts. And, the study found that the average gamer has their console in active mode for an average of 5.75 hours on days they play.


DVD Player: 28 watts
What is also interesting to note is when gaming console users also use their device as their DVD player.

Seems that it's far more energy efficient to own both devices and use them for their intended purposes. Though that isn't necessarily better in terms of embodied energy of the devices and e-waste when they hit their end of life.

Assuming a gadget gottahavist would have an HD DVD player, we're looking at about 28 watts for their DVD player.

Hand Held devices: 4 watts for charging
For smaller devices that charge up and run on a battery, the numbers are going to vary depending on how much it is used. Because of this, as well as simply the variety of small handled devices, numbers are difficult to find. But you'll be hard pressed to find a device like a digital camera, MP3 player, and similar small hand held device that uses more than 4 watts when charging.

Cell Phone: 4 watts for charging
Like smaller hand helds, a mobile device's power consumption is going to vary greatly depending on how it is used. Someone might not even be using it for calling or texting, yet see the battery power drained away while driving down the highway simply because the phone is looking for reception. However, the iPhone uses between 4-6 watts when charging, and similar smart phones use between 3-5 watts. Basic cell phones use less, but also do less, and users are leaning more towards smart phones these days simply because of the ability to access more tools that require internet access.

Desktops: 145 watts, with another 40 watts for the monitor
We'll address laptop power use when we talk about the gadget minimalist, so here, we're pretending that our gadget gottahaveist uses a desktop computer with a monitor. According to tests at CNET Labs, the average desktop uses about 145 watts at full blast. In reality, depending on the tasks being done on a computer, the power consumption can range from 60 to 250 watts. So, 145 watts seems to be a reasonable, middle-ground assumption. The average monitor, a 19" LCD, will use around 40 watts.

You can see that even with this list of some pretty standard gadgets in the average household, the watts add up quickly.

Next Page: The Gadget Minimalist and Setting Gottahavists and Minimalists Side by Side

Tags: Conspicuous Consumption | Consumerism | Electronics | Gadgets

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