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Are 4G and Dual Core phones hurting our environment?


I originally set out to write an article about how 3G being needlessly active on phones (thanks AT&T for that) was wasting energy unnecessarily, but as I can’t actually test my theory without turning off 3G on my phone, I was stuck in a Catch 22. Turns out that when your phone is sleeping, even a weak 3G signal draws very little power. More on that in a few days.

This all got me to thinking though. How about the next best things; 4G and Dual Core Processors. What impact are they having on us all. Got to do some calculating to make my point here so I will need your undivided attention for a couple minutes.

  • A typical phone charger draws 0.2 Amps at household (US) current of 110-120V. Lets stay conservative and go with 100 Volts (low rating on charger) at 0.2 Amps which equals 20 Watts (Volts x Amps = Watts). And while everyone’s mileage may vary, for the sake of this article let’s assume it takes 3 hours to fully charge your phone. So that’s 20 Watts x 3 Hours = 60 Watt Hours or W-h. Basically the equivalent of lighting a 60W bulb for 1 Hour.  
  • Now, let’s also assume that because of this new “advanced” technology, we need to charge our phones about 50% more often than we should. So instead of every other night, every night. Or, instead of every night, a booster shot when we get home from work. Basically comes out to an additional full charge every other day. So take 365 Days divided by 2 = 182.5 Days, x the 60 Watt Hours = 10,950 W-h. Another way to express this number would be in Kilowatt Hours (kW-h), which is Watt Hours / 1000, or 10.95 kW-h. Kilowatt hours is a standard measure of power that you will typically find on your Utility bill. With the average cost of a kW-h running about .13 cents, that equates to $1.42 in additional electricity for the pleasure of using this new technology. Not bad, but let’s take a look at the bigger picture.
  • It is estimated that there are currently 60 Million+ active Smartphones operating in the USA. Based on popularity, device sales and everything I have read, it wouldn’t be reaching to say that about 1/3 of those smartphone users are affected by one or more issues that contribute to energy drain.  So, 20 Million smartphones x 10.95 kW-h = 219,000,000 kW-h. That’s a lot of juice.
  • It takes one barrel of oil, or one BOE (Barrel of Oil Equivalent which can be other forms of fuel like coal, natural gas, etc.) to produce 1,700 kW-h of energy. Ok then, 219,000,000 kW-h / 1,700 = 128,824 BOEs or barrels of oil being consumed, mostly needlessly,  by our phones. Btw, that also calculates out $28,400,000 out of our pockets(20 Million x $1.42)  and into the lined pockets of your local Utility company. That’s also enough energy to power about 11,000 average homes for a year.

Ok, ok. I hear you. This is such a small pittance of all the energy we use, it really does not matter. But everything starts at the beginning. I am old enough to have owned quite a few cars with big V8s with 4 barrel carburetors, and remember noting that there was no way a 4 cylinder car could ever be allowed on the highway. And what about those incandescent light bulbs that served us well for more than 100 years. They are about to go the way of the dinosaurs. For the past thirty years we have been looking for ways to reduce our energy consumption, although sometimes it turned out to not be as convenient or fun (goodby Easy Bake Oven).

Technology has made great strides in reducing energy consumption on smartphones, from efficient new displays to amazing WiFi radios, that barely use any energy at all. But it seems that each time they take one step forward, they take one (or two) steps back. I commend Microsoft for holding back on these new features until they can be implemented with minimal impact on the user experience, and ultimately our environment. Wonder of the Carriers and OEMs have any idea of the impact their half-baked implementations have on all of us, or is it all about being faster than the other guy, at any cost. I am certainly far from being a Green advocate, but I do try to do what I can each day, in my own way, to make the world a little better for our children’s children. That’s not too much to ask of anyone. Something to think about.