We’re accustomed to believing that computers don’t use much electricity. We’ve mostly wised up to the fact that leaving TVs on standby uses almost as much power as leaving it on. Computing and home entertainment technology aren’t on top of most people’s green lists. But computers and TVs do have a significant impact, in energy use and beyond. Green technology is starting to combat the problem – but there are still challenges to be met.
Eco tech for computing is becoming more of a priority as more of us own one or more computers. Smaller computers with more energy efficient systems and components are an improvement on the juggernauts of only a few years ago. The award winning iameco (‘I am eco’) computer may be the eco tech machine for the future. It’s a tablet style computer with a recyclable wooden case, an innovative heat sink system to replace the energy-hungry fan and 98% recyclable components. This starts to address one of computing’s biggest problems: the energy required to recycle old products, especially as new and improved models come out so regularly.
The other big concern in this field is the environmental impact of data centers: the vast warehouses full of servers that support our everyday internet usage. According to a recent report in the New York Times, a single data center can use as much power as a medium sized town. The report concluded that a typical center wastes approximately 90% of the power it takes from the grid. They are energy intensive because they run at max capacity 24/7 and make heavy use of backup power systems and cooling systems. Proposals to build data centers in cold climates are unlikely to make a big difference and the whole system needs an eco tech overhaul.
Green TVs are starting to come into their own as well, with models by Vizio, Sony, Toshiba and Panasonic all making waves. They typically conserve resources by using high quality, low energy LEDs for backlighting, though laser lighting is another innovation brought out by Mitsubishi. Some have smart technology that can sense viewer proximity and power down when not being watched. Eco tech TVs LED (rather than plasma) TVs can use around 75% less power than traditional models. Sony also uses recycled materials for the backs of some of their TVs while other manufacturers are including solar powered remote controls.
Can technology overcome the problems that technology causes in the first place? Perhaps, but as with so many sustainable solutions, the solutions always seem to be just a bit further away. Technology is also no substitute for us changing our behaviour – switching off idle appliances ourselves instead of relying on technology to do it for us, for example. Still, awareness of the need for green technology is powering innovations that could make a big difference to what computers and home entertainment systems of the future look like.