The smartphone revolution is spreading to every corner of the globe and, in 2011, an astounding 450 million smartphones were shipped. But what is the environmental cost of all these phones?
A piece from OPower looked into this and found some surprising facts. The first is that the iPhone 5 only uses $0.41/year of energy, and the second is a look at the post-PC era.
It turns out that smartphones and tablets are ultra-energy efficient compared to traditional consumer electronics – “A day spent web-surfing on a smartphone is a much more energy-efficient than doing the same on a traditional computer.”
I know what you’re thinking, how can a McMansion be green – especially with tiny homes becoming popular – and when you see the photo below you’ll be even more skeptical. Add in the $2.5 million price tag and it sounds like a bridge-to-nowhere disaster. But before you pass judgement let’s learn more about the home.
It’s a 2,700 square-foot house with two stories, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and an oversized two-car garage. Not your average American home, more like something designed for a wealthy neighbor. And that fits because this home has the best green fixtures money can buy. The multi-million dollar price purchases:
The design allows the National Institute of Standards and Technology to turn the home into a laboratory, where they will test all the features – with no one home. Lights will turn on in the morning and after work. There will be fake microwaving and fake cheering for a football team on the TV. Garage doors will open and close several times. All to simulate the energy use of a typical family of four.
All kidding aside, this is a serious scientific experiment, “buildings account for 40 % of the primary energy consumption and 72 % of the electricity consumption in the United States, while accounting for 40 % of the CO2 emissions…will develop and deploy the measurement science to move the nation towards net-zero energy, high-performance buildings in a cost-effective manner while maintaining a healthy indoor environment.”
It’s a great goal – to have net-zero energy homes – but why did they have to do their research on a McMansion?
It’s hard to commit to using less water because it involves everything fine and delicate: cleaning our bodies, our food, and our clothes. We have a level of comfort with cleanliness and nobody wants to be smelly. The United States is particularly obsessed with this (“Cleanliness is next to Godliness”). We use nearly as much water as China and they have four times the population.
In the last five years, nearly every region of the country has experienced water shortages. At least 36 states are anticipating local, regional, or statewide water shortages by 2013, even under non-drought conditions.
Keep that in mind with these water conservation tips. Approach them with caution, do a little at a time, and find your comfort level. At times you may go too far and that is okay. Often I go too long without showering and am reminded, it’s time.
Water use in the home covers four areas: kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and outdoors. Which I break down into two categories – turn-off the running water and change your habits. The first is such a common sense idea, but we frequently keep the water running without doing anything. When you brush your teeth for 2 minutes and use the running water for 5 seconds. Or, when you pause in the shower to lather and ignore the gushing stream behind you.
I daresay these are easy changes:
Brushing teeth – brush, floss, and don’t turn on the water until you rinse your toothbrush and mouth. Use a cup to save even more water.
Cleaning dishes – Use running water after you scrubbed your dishes. A moist sponge can get you 90% clean. Make sure to place other dishes to collect the run-off.
Washing hands – turn off the water while you soap your hands.
Lathering in the shower – turn off the water for a few minutes while you lather, turn on to rinse off.
I know these are simple and common sense, but they are also habits. Repeated practice can save bucketfuls of water. Remember, the average American uses 100 gallons of water/day!
The second recommendation is for the water warriors. These require true determination, involving a substantial change:
Shorter showers – Five minutes is the goal, but four minutes will make you a legend.
Wash your clothes half as much – many clothing items, like jeans, can go weeks without washing.
No more dishwasher – some say that a full dishwasher is more efficient than hand washing, but the average dishwasher uses 4-10 gallons of water. Can you use less?
Watering the lawn – water less and less until you notice the grass slightly brown. That is the ideal amount to use.
Recycle gray water – Keep a pitcher next to the sink for recycling gray water. This is water free of soap and chemicals but containing food bits and such. Give it to your plants because they don’t mind a little dirt.
I have tested these recommendations and found them very livable. It took a few weeks to learn each habit, but now I’m proud of my water use. I think I’m becoming a water warrior!
Last month, Michael Noble of Fresh Energy put up a fascinating list of projections made by energy experts around 2000 or so. Suffice to say, the projections did not fare well. They were badly wrong…
What should we take from this?
The projections weren’t just off, they were way off. You can find similarly poor projections from the ’70s that underestimate the spread of energy efficiency and other demand-side technology solutions (They thought they were going to need hundreds of nuclear plants). Similarly terrible projections were also common in the early years of cell phones.
What do cell phones, energy efficiency, and renewable energy have in common? One, they are dynamic areas of technology development and market competition, which makes straight-line projections pretty useless. And two, they are distributed, with millions of loosely networked people and organizations working on them in parallel. Distributed, human-scale technologies come in small increments. They replicate quickly, so there’s more variation and competitive selection, and thus more evolution.
A $25 million federal grant will speed the construction of a solar manufacturing plant in San Diego, in an effort to boost U.S. competitiveness.
Semiconductor maker Soitec Solar, recipient of the Department of Energy grant, will pour the funds into equipment at its Rancho Bernando-area plant. Production is set to start before the end of the year on concentrated photovoltaic modules that use optical lenses to focus sunlight on tiny, highly efficient solar cells.
A publicly traded company based in Bernin, France, Soitec entered the concentrated photovoltaics business in 2009 with the purchase of Concentrix Solar, a spinoff of the Fraunhofer Institutes, a network of publicly funded research centers in Germany.
Soitec received the largest share of $37 million in Energy Department grants designed to accelerate high-volume solar manufacturing over the next two years.
More about Soitec’s CPV (concentrated photovoltaic) modules:
Soitec’s CPV modules are built on Concentrix technology. They use Fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight 500 times and focus it onto small, highly efficient multi-junction solar cells. This technology has helped us achieve world-leading AC system efficiency increases of 25% in actual operating conditions. This is almost twice as high as the efficiency increases achieved using conventional silicon systems.
Every six months, Earth’s biggest supercomputers have a giant race to see which can lay claim to being the world’s fastest high-performance computing cluster.
In the latest Top 500 Supercomputer Sites list unveiled Monday morning, a newly assembled cluster built with IBM hardware at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) takes the top prize. Its speed? A whopping 16.32 petaflops, or 16 thousand trillion calculations per second. With 96 racks, 98,304 compute nodes, 1.6 million cores, and 1.6 petabytes of memory across 4,500 square feet, the IBM Blue Gene/Q system installed at LLNL overtakes the 10-petaflop, 705,000-core “K computer” in Japan’s RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science.
The Japanese computer had been world’s fastest twice in a row. Before that, the top spot was held by a Chinese system. The DOE computer, named “Sequoia,” was delivered to LLNL between January and April. It’s the first US system to be ranked #1 since November 2009.
To get to 16 petaflops, Sequoia ran the Linpack benchmark for 23 hours without a single core failing, LLNL division leader Kim Cupps told Ars Friday in advance of the list’s release. The system is capable of hitting more than 20 petaflops—during the tests it ran at 81 percent efficiency. Learn more – With 16 petaflops and 1.6M cores, DOE supercomputer is world’s fastest
The race is on to replace steel cars with carbon-fibre cars. All of the major automakers have inked deals to make the switch. The reason being that carbon-fibre is:
“10 times stronger than regular-grade steel and one-quarter of steel’s weight.”
“Using carbon fiber in lieu of conventional steel can lower the weight of a vehicle component by up to 50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Cutting a car’s weight by 10 percent can improve fuel economy by as much as 8 percent.”
Weight is a big deal in cars. The heavier the car, the bigger the engine and, typically, the lower the fuel economy. This is especially true for electric cars who face limited mileage on one charge, reduce that weight by 10% and you can go an extra 50 miles.
Currently, carbon-fibre is expensive to make and only really used in racing cars. BMW, the first company to invest heavily in carbon, has already found ways to cut production costs.
“The carbon fiber fabric is placed in a mold, and resin is injected under high pressure and temperature. The process, which once took 20 minutes per part, now requires less than 10 minutes. Robots cut and handle the material and components, which previously were made by hand.
The robots will help BMW achieved big savings. A pound of carbon fiber now costs only a third as much as a pound used in the M3 CSL coupe’s roof when the limited-edition car was introduced in the 2004 model year.”
It’s exciting to think what this technology can do, not only for cars, but trucks, planes, boats, etc.
Energy researcher Amory Lovins, in this TED talk, thinks that when we fully start using carbon-fibre vehicles fuel economy in cars will shoot up to 200 miles/gallon. He says that halving the weight of the car creates compound effects: lighter car, requires a lighter engine, which makes the car even lighter.
A new study from Carnegie Mellon University found that in 2010, video games wasted about 1% of America’s electrical energy.
They found that up to 75% of energy consumed by video game consoles is during idle use, because the machines don’t have an auto-power-down feature (like every computer does).
The authors of the study say the cost of implementing this feature is marginal and would save more than $1 billion in utility costs.
- By the end of 2010, over 75 million current generation video game consoles (Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and Sony PlayStation 3) had been sold, meaning that many homes have two or more current generation game consoles
- We estimate that the total electricity consumption of video game consoles in the US was around 11 TWh in 2007 and 16 TWh in 2010 (approximately 1 % of US residential electricity consumption), an increase of almost 50 % in 3 years.
- The most effective energy-saving modification is incorporation of a default auto power down feature, which could reduce electricity consumption of game consoles by 75 % (10 TWh reduction of electricity in 2010).
- A simple improvement that could be implemented now via firmware updates to power the console down after 1 hour of inactivity. Though two of the three current generation consoles have this capability, it is not enabled by default, a modification that would be trivial for console manufacturers.
- Saving consumers over $1 billion annually in electricity bills.
Scott Lowe at The Verge points out that in May 2011, Microsoft did update Xbox 360′s firmware to enable auto-power-down by default. Now it’s up to the rest of industry to catch-up.