The life electric

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[mk_dropcaps style=”simple-style”]T[/mk_dropcaps]HE AMOUNT OF ENERGY your smartphone, TV or laptop uses is significant, particularly when you consider that there are more mobile devices that need a charge than humans on Earth. While the charts on this page were taken from a 2012 study in the United States, the per-device electricity consumption is the same for Canadian gadgets, and the total number of devices and their cumulative annual consumption is roughly 10 times less in Canada. Interestingly, a desktop computer burns through the most electricity. If you look at how many people have a desktop versus how many have a TV, however, it turns out that overall, TVs consume far more energy than anything else — and add a console or cable box to the TV and the energy used is even higher. The stats here are a sobering look at the energy we use to power our gadgets.

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“If you look at cellphones only, yeah, their proliferation is scary,” says John “Skip” Laitner, president of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences. “But if you look from a device perspective to a systems perspective, a bigger picture emerges. For example, yes, your cellphone uses energy, but if it enables you to order things online or reduces your need for travel, or reduces your need for things like paper, you’re avoiding the need for other uses, and there’s a very large net positive return.”

Still, Laitner, who calculates that globally we waste more than 80 per cent of the energy we put into our economic system, says there are three things we can do to reduce the energy wasted through our gadgets. One: rethink the economy and focus on the efficient use of resources, such as water and electricity, rather than just continuously increasing the supply. Two: develop policies that back up that focus on efficiently using energy and resources. And three: create incentives or standards that encourage investment in updating our existing infrastructure, such as the power grid. It’s all part of considering how the technology we use plays into a much larger system.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]


  • Exorcise phantom power: When your electronic devices are plugged in but not doing anything, they still use energy. Plug your TV, cable box, game console and phone charger into a power bar that can easily be switched on and o­ff.
  • Run appliances during “o­ -peak” hours. It’s cheaper and puts less stress on the grid (see “Primer” on page 44).
  • Many devices have an energy saving mode; use it.
  • Check your TV or computer monitor’s brightness settings. Dimming it just a little can dramatically decrease its power consumption.

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–  Tom Hall

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Read more stories from the Winter 2016 issue of Energy Exchange magazine