The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) is warning the technology industry that the amount of power consumed by household electronics and communications gear could double by the year 2022 and triple by the year 2030 to 1,700 terawatt hours—basically equivalent to the entire residential electricity consumption in the United States and Japan today. The increased electricity consumption fueled by consumer electronics, of course, places greater demand on energy generation systems, which in turn increases carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses, accelerating human-induced global climate change.
However, the IEA notes that the world’s energy future doesn’t necessarily have to be a bleak dystopia: energy consumption can be held at today’s levels if electronics manufacturers enable energy-conserving technologies and engineer their products to consumer power only when it is needed.
The IEA report, Gadgets and Gigawatts, notes that governmental policy and regulation may be needed to convince manufacturers—and consumers—to choose energy-conserving items. Although energy consumption from appliances in developed markets is declining, it is being more than offset by power consumed by televisions, computers, phones, gaming appliances, and media players, and it’s difficult to convince consumers to make an energy-smart purchase when the difference in between a energy-saving device and an energy-wasting device is so slight at an individual level. The argument is even more difficult to make in developing economies, where consumers and businesses are often faced with a decision to use technologies that burn a great deal of energy…or use no technology at all.
The IEA notes that the largest improvement opportunity for energy efficiency may come from hardware and software working together to ensure devices only consume power when it is needed; however, public policy will likely have to play a role in guiding manufacturers and consumer behavior.
In the meantime, the IEA estimates that the number of people using a personal computer will pass the one billion mark by the end of 2009, and the number of power supplies associated with electronic devices like mobile phones now exceeds 5.5 billion.
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