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Going green with electronics

CES is apparently going green this year, which interests me quite a bit.  Unfortunately, I won't be there to experience it myself.  However, I have been actively looking at green technologies at the Saunders homestead for some time.   We have a large family, and hence a large house, and we live in Canada.  Reducing our energy consumption is not just the "right thing to do", but it also could potentially save a substantial amount of money, given the winters here.

PC's are huge consumers of power.  Power hungry chipsets, and our tendency to leave the always-on, means that at any one time you might be running the equivalent of 10 or 20 light bulbs, 24×7.  In our household, we have between 8 and 10 PCs running 24×7, depending on who's home.  To make that bite easier to handle I've been:

  • Replacing old fashioned CRT monitors with energy efficient LCD's. Not only are the LCD's nicer to look at, but those labelled TCO '03 or EnergyStar may not consume more than 1W of power in standby mode.  We have just two CRTs to replace, and will be replacing those as well as our aging tube television this year as well.
  • Replacing PC's with more modern units that sleep, hibernate, and restore properly.  Our newest PC's can shut down to less than 4W of power in sleep mode, and still restore to full operation in seconds on either a scheduled backup, or a someone sitting down to use them.  The savings become obvious when you contrast that with PC's from a decade a go which consumed a full 90W of power 24×7, or even modern PC's with their monster 350 and 400W power supplies that don't hibernate properly.

When all is said and done, I expect that we will be able to shave our power costs for PC's pretty dramatically.

The other area I've been looking at is lighting.  Unfortunately, I haven't been as successful here.  Compact fluorescents simply don't last as long as they're rated for, and while they consume less power than incandescent bulbs, disposal is problematic given the mercury in the tubes.  Recently I've been investigating LED lamps with edison bases (the type that fit a standard lighting socket).  A variety of these are becoming available from Asia, and I ordered several models from merchants over eBay.  With power ratings in the range of 3 to 5 watts, they seem very attractive from an energy consumption point of view.  However, the downsides are many:

  • They're pricey.  Expect to pay $6 to $20 per bulb. 
  • They're fragile.  1/3 of the bulbs I ordered arrived with LEDs missing.  Inside the bulbs, the LEDs are wired in series.  Like strands of Christmas tree lights, when one LED dies, the whole strand may die.
  • The light output is very low.  Although they may consume just 3 watts of power, the light they produce is the equivalent of a 25 to 30 watt incandescent bulb.
  • The color of the light is a harsh blue tone.  Some manufacturers are starting to color the bulbs, but so far the "warm" tone bulbs I've seen are more probably described as orange-tone.

For now, LEDs aren't ready for prime time, and the pollutants in CF lamps bother me a lot given our experience with CF reliability.  We're sticking with incandescent until something better comes along, and making sure to keep the things switched off when they're not in use.

It'll be interesting to see what comes out of CES this week.  I'm hoping to hear about some new innovations, even if I can't make it to the show myself.

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