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Better Off

The average American home contains 25 consumer electronics devices. So whether you are off-grid or on, start by reducing energy use on existing gadgets and lifestyle.
First, get a grip on your current electricity usage. A box called The Kill A Watt Power Usage Monitor, from P3 International, makes for a nifty parlor game of Guess Watt with anything that plugs into a socket.
You�ll be surprised how much energy some devices use even when idle or turned off. Consumer electronics suck as much as 25 percent of their power when not in use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. For computers, the figure can be much higher – up to 85 percent for a PC that’s always left on.
That’s because many devices don’t really turn off – they operate in standby mode, awaiting commands from a remote control. Many also have digital displays that stay on.

For those on the move, there’s a Solar Backpack (Black with Charcoal Solar Panels) from Voltaic Systems. Fully charged, the backpack’s solar panels can juice up to three iPods. The company is expected to come out this spring with a version powerful enough to charge laptops.

Laptops use less power than desktop machines – a desktop computer, monitor and cable modem together suck 11 watts even when powered down, adding 66 cents to a typical Californian’s monthly energy bill. An idle CD player can munch 6 watts. So can a switched-off TV.

It adds up. These silent siphons of energy, known as phantom loads, add about $28 to the average annual household power bill, according to the Energy Department.

You can tame these electricity vampires by unplugging devices between uses. If that’s too much effort, consider buying a SmartStrip, a power strip and surge protector that automatically cuts off power to devices that are shut down.
It’s designed to be used with computers or home entertainment systems where devices operate in clusters. If, for example, the TV is off, the SmartStrip also shuts down the DVD player, surround- sound speakers and cable box.
What about cell phones, digital cameras, iPods and other rechargeable devices? Try taking them off the grid, at least partially. The totally useless Solio charger attaches with a suction cup to a window, where it claims to soak up enough energy from the sun to fully power two cell phones. but it does not work.

Wind power is another alternative. The 5-inch HYmini wind turbine attaches to your arm while running, downhill skiing or biking. A 20- minute session with wind speeds of 19 mph can capture enough power to keep an iPod going for 30 minutes, according to Miniwiz, the Taiwanese company that makes HYmini.
Alternative energy isn’t always the cheapest or fastest way to charge up. The solar backpacks are $199 to $599. And the HYmini is $50 to $70. Most take hours of movement or sunbathing to fully charge.
A more economical and easier tweak is to reduce battery use, which might help cut down on the 15 billion disposable batteries produced each year.
A top-of-the-line AA nickel metal hydride MaxE battery from Ansmann Energy, distributed in the United States by Horizon Battery, costs about $4 and can be recharged 1,000 times. At 3 cents in electricity per charge, the battery’s total cost comes to about $34. By contrast, 1,000 disposable AA batteries at 30 cents apiece would cost about $300. But the cost of the MaxE battery charger is $88, adding consderably to the cost equation and the embodied energy.

Road warriors who don’t want to get loaded down with a charging unit might consider a USBCEL- 2 Cell Pack, which looks and acts just like a AA battery, except the top pops off to reveal a USB head that can plug into a laptop’s USB port to recharge. A pair will set you back $17.50. The average American home contains 25 consumer electronics devices. So to go green, start with what you’ve got.
First, get a handle on your current electricity usage. A device called Kill A Watt, from P3 International, makes for a nifty parlor game of Guess Watt with anything that plugs into a socket.
One surprise might be how much energy some devices use even when idle or turned off. Consumer electronics suck as much as 25 percent of their power when not in use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. For computers, the figure can be much higher – up to 85 percent for a PC that’s always left on.
That’s because many devices don’t really turn off – they operate in standby mode, awaiting commands from a remote control. Many also have digital displays that stay on.
For example, a computer, monitor and cable modem together suck 11 watts even when powered down, adding 66 cents to a typical Californian’s monthly energy bill. An idle CD player can munch 6 watts. So can a switched-off TV.
It adds up. These silent siphons of energy, known as phantom loads, add about $28 to the average annual household power bill, according to the Energy Department.
You can tame these electricity vampires by unplugging devices between uses. If that’s too much effort, consider buying a SmartStrip, a power strip and surge protector that automatically cuts off power to devices that are shut down.
It’s designed to be used with computers or home entertainment systems where devices operate in clusters. If, for example, the TV is off, the SmartStrip also shuts down the DVD player, surround- sound speakers and cable box.
What about cell phones, digital cameras, iPods and other rechargeable devices? Try taking them off the grid, at least partially. A Solio charger, about the size of a computer mouse, attaches with a suction cup to a window, where it soaks up enough energy from the sun to fully power up two cell phones.
For those on the move, there’s a solar backpack from Voltaic Systems. Fully charged, the backpack’s solar panels can juice up to three iPods. The company is expected to come out this spring with a version powerful enough to charge laptops.
Wind power is another alternative. The 5-inch HYmini wind turbine attaches to your arm while running, downhill skiing or biking. A 20- minute session with wind speeds of 19 mph can capture enough power to keep an iPod going for 30 minutes, according to Miniwiz, the Taiwanese company that makes HYmini.
Alternative energy isn’t always the cheapest or fastest way to charge up. The Solio costs $80 to $200. The solar backpacks are $199 to $599. And the HYmini is $50 to $70. Most take hours of movement or sunbathing to fully charge.
A more economical and easier tweak is to reduce battery use, which might help cut down on the 15 billion disposable batteries produced each year.
A top-of-the-line AA nickel metal hydride MaxE battery from Ansmann Energy, distributed in the United States by Horizon Battery, costs about $4 and can be recharged 1,000 times. At 3 cents in electricity per charge, the battery’s total cost comes to about $34. By contrast, 1,000 disposable AA batteries at 30 cents apiece would cost about $300.
Road warriors who don’t want to get loaded down with a charging unit might consider USBCell, which looks and acts just like a AA battery, except the top pops off to reveal a USB head that can plug into a laptop’s USB port to recharge. A pair will set you back $17.50.
What Shade of Green
Consumer electronics marketers can talk about the environmental benefits of their gadgets until they’re green in the face. Several organizations have attempted to apply standards to weed out the eco- gibberish and give consumers a shortcut by which to judge products.
Here’s a sample of the labels used to denote an eco-friendly product:
Energy Star
A voluntary program set up by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency in 1992 to recognize energy- efficient products. The program started with computers and monitors but now covers more than 50 categories, including consumer electronics, lighting and office equipment. The guidelines, which cover energy savings during standby mode as well as when the device is in full use, vary by product.
Restriction of Hazardous Substances
A European Union directive that restricts the use of lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and several fire retardants in consumer products. Although the directive is mandatory in EU member countries, it does not apply in the United States. Some products sold in the United States, however, may advertise that they comply with the directive.
Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool
A guide by the Green Electronics Council to assess the environmental attributes of computers and monitors. EPEAT criteria weigh design, manufacturing, packaging, use, disassembly, recycling and disposal.
80 PLUS
Certified products have power supplies that are much more efficient than standard power supplies.
– Alex Pham, Los Angeles Times Energy-Minded Office Habits
* Use a computer with an Energy Star designation. It consumes 70 percent less electricity than other computers. If left inactive, Energy Star computers enter a low-power mode and use 15 watts or less. Spending a large portion of time in low-power mode not only saves energy but helps equipment run cooler and last longer.
* To maximize savings with a laptop, put the AC adapter on a power strip that can be turned off or will turn off automatically. The transformer in the AC adapter draws power continuously, even when the laptop is not plugged into the adapter.
* Turn off equipment when it’s not in use.
* Set monitors to switch to sleep mode automatically when not in use, or manually turn them off. Screen savers don’t reduce energy use by monitors.
* For your next computer upgrade, consider buying a laptop, which uses much less energy than a desktop.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy

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