Before buying my first TV in 2008, I had heard horror stories of early 2000s plasma screens that guzzled as much as 500 watts when in use. I knew that typical 1980s or 1990s CRT sets only used about 80 watts when in use (and about 20 watts on standby).
I didn’t find a TV that made the grade at 80 watts, so I settled on a 40-inch Sony that used 105 watts when active.
Fast-forward to 2012. My younger brother needed a TV, so I decided to give him mine and buy a new one for myself.
My new set – also a Sony – was the same size as the 2008 version, but was half the price, refreshed its screen twice as fast and had an inbuilt computer for accessing online content and data from an external hard drive.
But the important point is this: the newer model drew about 47 watts when in use – less than half the old set’s power demand, less too than the old CRT units.
This experience supports a thesis I have long held: technical innovation creates better appliances that demand less resources.
I’ve seen a similar trend in other recent changes I’ve made at home.
A wireless access point (WAP) I bought in 2009 used 15 watts; my new WAP uses less than three watts.
I switched to LED downlights in my lounge room, making it feel much more spacious (it’s like having a house extension without doing any building!). Normally, nine halogen downlights would use between 450 and 585 watts, generating a whopping heat load equivalent to having an additional six people huddled in my lounge room.
The Philips LED downlights I bought could do with a cost reduction (I paid $30 per light) but use just 7 watts each. In addition, houses using LED downlights can be built with 2.4-metre ceilings rather than 2.7-metre or greater. This leads to additional and significant resource savings.
The biggest saving I’ve seen, however, is in air conditioning. My Panasonic reverse cycle air conditioner is a high performer (although not the best) with a coefficient of performance of 5.0. The device has reduced my heating energy use by 83 per cent.
Improvements in the near future
According to research conducted for BZE’s Zero Carbon Australia Buildings plan, LED lights are expected to double in lumens (light) per watt, which means half the power consumption for the same amount of light.
Computing giant Intel recently announced its 2013 computer processors will use 41 per cent less electricity than the processors sold in 2012.
We can expect a new 40″ Sony television like mine to use about 20-25 watts within three to four years. One way of looking at this is to say that in 2015 we will be able to power four times as many televisions as we did in the 1990s, using the same energy.
Consider this in light of the prediction that global population is heading towards nine billion this century. If televisions draw only 20 watts, eight billion people will be able to watch TV using the same amount of energy as just two billion viewers in the 1990s.
When energy demands are reduced like this, there is some hope that the world can provide wide access to communications media, and the energy to run them, even in poorer countries.
Convergence is efficient
Device convergence means that we will have less appliances, which are in turn using less energy than their standalone forebears.
There have been plenty of successful convergences already: the digital compact camera joining the mobile phone and the personal music player joining the mobile phone are two great examples.
As people in poorer countries gain the economic capacity to buy communication and entertainment devices (or as those devices become cheaper), they won’t need to obtain as many gadgets (or use as much power) as people in wealthier countries historically have done.
Support industry leaders
To point to some of these hopeful signs from the corporate technology world is not to say that the problem will fix itself without our doing anything.
The companies leading these efficiency gains (like Sony, Netgear and Mitsubishi for my examples) should be recognised. We could go beyond mandatory star ratings with upgraded Minimum Energy Performance Standards to require other manufacturers to catch up with the leaders or to cease selling their poor performing products.
An example of this would be to ban all air conditioners/reverse cycle air conditioners that do not heat with a C.O.P. of 4.0 and within 2 years lift that minimum standard again to 5.0.
We could boost publicly-funded research and regulate in favour of the best performers and against the worst performers in an appliance class. Japan already implements a version of this with its Top Runner Program which provides bonuses to the leaders subsidised by penalites on the worst performers in an appliance class.
Mining waste for efficient resource use
It’s becoming more and more costly to extract many minerals and develop resources. Australia needs to seriously improve on resource recovery. If there is going to be a new television built, then the inputs for that TV, and hopefully a second unit, should come from an older less resource efficient model through resource recovery (recycling).
Planned obsolescence plagues home appliances – whether poor manufacture that causes products to break down, or the staged release of new models, pressuring people to discard the previous version while it still works. Computers and smartphones are key culprits here.
Our wasteful consumer lifestyle gives us some “low hanging fruit” to pick when it comes to cleaning up our act. Some of these “low hanging fruit” may now be as simple as upgrading to a modern, efficient appliance. Others may require changes to the way products are made and marketed.
There are many commonsense solutions that result in radical reductions in the amount of energy used to sustain people’s current lifestyles.
Mining energy efficiency can help to end the huge waste of energy and materials that poses great long-term threats to our climate.