Our homes, offices and lives are becoming smarter, but that power could come with a cost.
With “smart,” Internet-controlled devices, we can now use our phones to remotely control our stereos, televisions, thermostats, door locks, alarm systems, garage doors and even the lights throughout our homes.
The industry is likely to grow exponentially in the next few years as more products are developed and software improves.
The technology gives us greater control, but at what price?
A study from the International Energy Agency last week found that the world’s 14 billion online electronic devices wasted about $80 billion in 2013 because of inefficient technology. The study focuses mostly on set-top boxes, modems, printers and game consoles. The wasted energy is expected to balloon to $120 billion by 2020 as more of the Internet-connected devices come online.
“The proliferation of connected devices brings many benefits to the world, but right now the cost is far higher than it should be,” IEA Executive Director Marla van der Hoeven said. “Consumers are losing money in the form of wasted energy, which is leading to more costly power stations and more distribution infrastructure being built than we would otherwise need — not to mention all the extra greenhouse gases that are being emitted. But it need not be this way. If we adopt best available technologies, we can minimize the cost of meeting demand as the use and benefits of connected devices grows.”
What’s the problem?
Much of the issue has to do with standby power, which for many network-enabled devices draws as much power as when it is in full power mode.
“The problem is not that these devices are often in standby mode, but rather that they typically use much more power than they should to maintain a connection and communicate with the network,” Van der Hoeven said. “Just by using today’s best available technology, such devices could perform exactly the same tasks in standby while consuming around 65 percent less power.”
The smart devices are designed for convenience, but many also promise to save energy. Makers of smart thermostats claim to save users hundreds of dollars a year by sensing when the home is empty and adjusting the temperature accordingly. Smart light bulb companies say they can save users money by allowing them to turn off the lights.
Smart technology is still in its infancy. As the industry matures, energy efficiencies likely will follow. But for now, consumers may have to choose between convenience and efficiency.