According to a report from the UK’s not-for-profit Energy Saving Trust released last week, Britain’s love of electrical appliances and gadgets could result in the country missing its carbon emission reduction targets.
It seems that UK households now own three-and-a-half times as many electrical appliances and devices as 20 years ago. With a target of 34% reduction in domestic appliance carbon emissions by 2020 (from 1990 levels), at the current course and speed the UK will overshoot by some seven million tons.
The Elephant in the Living Room (an update on a previous report called The rise of the machines) covers a variety of devices – lighting, refrigeration, cooking, washing, consumer electronics and home computing. It points out that between 2000 and 2009, electricity use from home computing more than doubled, from 3.1TWh to 6.5TWh. In that time the number of devices in British homes – including desktop and laptop computers, and peripherals like scanners, printers, disk drives – rose from 30 million to 65 million.
Energy consumed by home computing is now expected to rise slightly less than thought in the previous report five years ago, to reach 6.9TWh by 2020. Included in the reasons for the lower target were the consolidation of functionality in fewer devices, the move to LCD and LED screens, and the move to laptops, which are inherently more power efficient.
The real problem here is the proliferation of gadgets. The report points out that increasing functionality within existing devices may mean more power consumption and the divergence in device types adds to the problem. While much of the work we previously did on big, inefficient desktop computers is now being done on small, more efficient machines, the proliferation of those devices - netbooks, notebooks, tablets, smartphones, e-readers, etc – may mean more energy used by chargers.
It’s not helped by the fact that some of those units and formats have become trendy, fashion items. So people upgrade just to be seen with the latest device. It accounts for much of the disappointment last week when Apple announced the iPhone 4s, rather than a new style iPhone 5.