Internet of Things eats at energy efficiency

The addition of new and smarter devices could be making energy efficiency targets harder to achieve, writes Uma Campbell.
Published: Tue 15 Mar 2016

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States produces over 4 trillion kWh of electricity each year - and the country wastes a truly incredible amount of what’s produced.

How much, you ask? Well, as things currently stand, the country is wasting more electricity than it produces through coal and nuclear combined - out of the over 4,000 billion kWh produced each year, more than 2,455 billion kWh are wasted.

The US wastes their energy from lighting, wich is the biggest problem here, but even small issues - like water hitting pathways instead of the green areas- ultimately end up wasting power.

Can we reduce how much energy we’re wasting?

Yes, we can. For example, the country is currently in the middle of switching lighting systems over from older, less efficient models (like incandescents) to new energy efficient versions like LEDs.

We’re not done with the lighting revolution, either. Recent developments have created a new version of the incandescent bulb that’s expected to reach as much as 40% energy efficiency. That may not sound like much, but even LEDs are only about 15% efficient, and 40% is believed to be the cap with our current level of technology.

Even if the new bulbs ultimately fail to reach the level researchers hope for, LEDs are more efficient (and last longer) than our existing alternatives. Just switching the entire nation over would drastically reduce the amount of energy we waste through lighting.

How about other methods?

Simply turning electronics (computers, game consoles, etc.) off when you’re done with them can help sharply curb the amount of power being used. Many of these devices take no more than a minute or so to boot up from being off, and that’s a small price to pay for curbing their energy use.

If you don’t want to turn your computer all the way off, set it to hibernate. Screensavers may look attractive, but in terms of energy use, they’re a constant and unnecessary drain.

You can also save energy through a more natural approach by opening blinds to let in sunlight during the day, then closing them when it gets dark to help preserve heat at night.

Finally, whenever you’re shopping for new appliances, check for the Energy Star label (or the relevant energy efficiency rating for your country). Everything needs to get replaced eventually, and the more efficient your appliances are, the more energy you’ll be able to save.

Our new problem: The Internet Of Things

The biggest barrier to energy efficiency might be our increasingly networked world. Devices and appliances are being designed so that they’re always on, even if there’s no legitimate reason to have them connected. It’s a choice of convenience over hidden costs, and these ‘vampire’ devices often use more power in standby mode than they do when they’re active each day.

For example, a cable box with DVR capabilities may be using around 43W even in standby, fully half of what of what some televisions use when active.

Now, just to be clear, the Internet of Things isn’t inherently bad. In fact, when it’s not being silly (does anyone need a networked toaster oven they can control from work?), the Internet of Things offers new options and capabilities to improve our lives… and what’s the point of manipulating energy in the first place if we’re not using it to make our lives better?

We’re not saying that ‘things’ shouldn’t be networked, but the impact of millions upon millions of new devices constantly drawing from the power grid will have an impact on our power grid - and our bills. At the very least, we should be considering ways to save electricity while we’re busy adding new devices.


US EIA: Frequently Asked Questions

Co.Exist: All Hail The New Incandescent Light Bulb, Efficient As An LED Bulb

Homeselfe: 10 Ways to Save on your Electric Bill