How Much Energy Can a Gadget Minimalist Save?

The Gadget Minimalist

Photo via la familia brophy via Flickr CC

The other end of the gadget spectrum gives us someone who uses the latest technology to the absolute fullest, finding that the majority of their tasks can be completed on the applications and features offered on just two devices - a cell phone and a laptop. A laptop can be used for a wide range of things beyond the standard computer tasks. Gaming, to a certain extent, can be done on a laptop, along with watching movies, catching television shows, and listening to music. And today's cell phones are packed with features that allow you to ditch PDAs, alarm clocks, calculators, cameras, mp3 players and more.

Laptop: 62 watts
As with desktops, laptops vary greatly in their power consumption depending upon the tasks they're asked to perform. According to CNET Labs, after testing a range of laptops, they found the average device uses 62 watts in use, and 25 watts when idle.

Cell phone: 4 watts for charging...but charging more often
We discussed this one above. Power consumption is going to vary depending on how often you charge it. And that depends on if you run a lot of apps, talk a lot, text a lot, use the camera a lot, and so on - all things a gadget minimalist is likely to do since that is the purpose of having just one device that does everything.

Setting a Minimalist and Gottahavist Side by Side

Adding up the watts of the most common items a gadget gottahavist will have in their artillery brings us to about 644-770 watts, depending on what kind of TV they own. However, this is probably well under what a true gottahavist would be consuming, considering that many have quite a few more devices for home entertainment, likely two computer monitors, a laptop in addition to a desktop, and countless little gadgets that need to be plugged in for charging.

For the gadget minimalist, we're looking at about 68 watts (also imprecise because it's difficult to guess at how often a cell phone would need to be recharged).

Because it's practically an exercise in futility (or how to make yourself go insane as quickly as possible) we aren't going to try and figure realistically what the total energy consumption is for each kinda of gadgeteer. The numbers are already clearly a stark contrast. And, our conclusion here isn't revolutionary. We all understand that using fewer devices means using less electricity and generating less e-waste. But just for kicks, let's run a practical scenario that helps highlight the differences.

The Gadget Minimalist has a full time job for which they don't telecommute. All day long, they use their cell phone for checking email, inputing calendar appointments, snapping a few photos, listening to music to and from work, making a few calls, and texting friends. All that means they need to charge it from empty to full on a daily basis, which takes about an hour. They also run their laptop for about 5 hours a day, emailing, running a few programs, watching a few shows on Hulu and downloading some music and movies. This means they use .314 killowatt hours a day, or 114.61 a year.
The Gadget Gottahavist also has a full time job for which they don't telecommute. They use their cell phone for email, texting, and talking but only need to charge it twice a week, because they have an mp3 player they use for music and a digital camera for photos, which they charge up once a week. When they come home, they flip on their desktop and have it running for about 5 hours during the evening to check email and web surf. They also flip on the LCD TV and watch a few episodes of their favorite shows recorded during the day on their cable box which has DVR capabilities. They watch TV for about 3 hours, taking about 2 hours to play a video game before heading to bed. This means they're consuming about 2.503 kwh a day, or, on the low end of the range, about 913.6 kwh a year.

That's a difference of nearly 800 kwh a year.

The Bigger Picture: Fewer Gadgets = Less Energy Consumption

But the bigger point is that we often don't recognize just how many gadgets we posses, and just how few we need.

Granted, the average person is not going to let go of their television in favor of a laptop. And with that television undoubtedly comes a minimum of a cable box, likley with DVR capabilities, and some sort of DVD player. But after having seen the watts leap up depending on the type of devices used, hopefully that person will make energy-savvy purchasing choices both in efficient devices, and buying only the ones they really need to get the TV-watching experience they want.

Also, if you're switching to your cell phone in order to leave behind things like your alarm clock, your power consumption won't change much. However, switching to using your cell phone as your camera, your video camera, your mp3 player, and more will significantly increase how often you have to charge it. If you have a fairly energy efficient phone (which, phones with long-lasting batteries to support this kind of use for longer than a day or so really doesn't exist right now), or if you take as many steps as possible to make your battery last and don't mind charging it daily or at least a few times a week, then it won't be an issue and ultimately your total carbon footprint will be far smaller because you'll be responsible for far less e-waste in the form of multiple gadgets.

Next Page: The Ups and Downs of Ditching Devices, and Determining Whether You're a Gadget Minimalist or Gottahavist

Tags: Conspicuous Consumption | Consumerism | Electronics | Gadgets


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