Reducing Carbon Footprint Of New Gadgets

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The new gadgets in our lives are increasing the amount of electricity we use. Omar Gallaga, technology-culture correspondent for the Austin American-Statesman, discusses strategies for reducing the energy bills.


And we're back with Omar Gallaga. He covers new technology for the Austin-American Statesman. Omar, Tamara raises an important question there. Does the benefit of not printing so many pictures outweigh the cost of plugging in a digital picture frame?

GALLAGA: Not really. No. Printing a photo uses energy one time and even it uses very little power, a digital picture frame is likely to be plugged in and using power year round. And like the report said, as they get cheaper, we're probably going to have multiple displays like this in the home.

NORRIS: Now, I imagine than people who've come to depend on all that gadgetry in their homes will find it difficult to give up some of these things. That's probably the easiest way to shrink your environmental footprint is actually to do without some of this, but are there things that you can do without getting up something to actually reduce your energy consumption?

GALLAGA: Well, the first thing you can do is just find out exactly how much energy you're using. There's a company called P3 International that sells a device called Kill-O-Watt, that's K-I-L-L-O-Watt for about $20. You can find it on Amazon and lots of other Web sites. You can plug anything into it, from your refrigerator to your mp3 player, and it will tell you exactly how much power it's using, even if it's in standby mode.

So, once you know how much energy these devices are consuming, you can kind of prioritize and figure out what you want to unplug or have off all the time. For instance, the first thing you'd want to do is unplug cell phone chargers when they're not being used to charge. Computers, stereo receivers - those use a lot of energy and if you're not using them, you should turn them off.

NORRIS: Now, this bears repeating. I keep hearing you use the phrase, all the time, so, some of those tech-valet systems that allow you to plug everything in all at once, just drop your cell phone, drop your iPod, drop that into some sort of little case that has all the chargers, bad idea because it's plugged in all the time.

GALLAGA: Right. It uses what's called vampire power.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GALLAGA: Which sounds a bit scary, but it's actually, even if it's a small amount of energy, it is consuming energy all the time, waiting for things to be plugged into it.

NORRIS: Well, Omar, we can all do our part to send off energy-sucking gadgets in the so-called vampire power, which sounds so scary, but are companies coming up with energy-efficient gadgets that will use less energy?

GALLAGA: Yes. There is a really big movement right now to design greener products that use less energy. This movement spans the PC industry, appliance makers, companies that make cell phones and cameras. There are also lots of companies approaching it from the other end, from the power outlet. There is a company in San Ramon, California called Green Plug that is trying to create a universal charger that would detect what's plugged into it and cut off the power when, say, a laptop or cell phone is fully charged.

Green Plug is one company in a group called the Alliance for Universal Power, which sounds a bit like some super space villains, but is actually working toward reducing the number of chargers and adaptors you have. Everything would be compatible with each other, and you'd only need one adaptor that charges everything.

There's also power strips available right now that will cut off power to devices that are in standby mode. There's power strips that will turn off power based on whether there's motion in the room or can be shut down via remote controls. You don't have to get back there or get behind the TV to try to unplug things.

There's even whole house systems that include thermostat controls, special power outlets - all of this deigned to conserve power. Even looking forward, we're starting to see portable solar cells that you can use to charge your cell phone on the go or interest in people mounting wind turbines on the rooftops to generate at least part of the energy they consume in the home.

NORRIS: So, I guess the message is pull the plug.

GALLAGA: Yes, yes. Conserve, know how much power you're consuming.

NORRIS: Omar, I hope that you'll be posting links to some of the devices that you mentioned on our Web site.

GALLAGA: I will, indeed. I will post not only links to some of the companies that are making these devices, but also the department of energy and other resources that can help you get all that consumption under control. It'll be at

NORRIS: Thank you, Omar.

GALLAGA: Thanks for having me.

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