Wellness Wednesday: Smart Phones & Energy Usage

Smart phones are everywhere. This past year the iPhone 5 was launched and within three days over 5 million units had been sold. Apparently I wasn’t the only curious one wondering how much energy these and other smart phones use. This posting by Barry Fischer explains that the costs to charge the iPhone are really very minimal – about $0.41 per year for the new iPhone 5. Other smart devices cost about the same, more in the case of those with a larger battery. Literally pennies a year. Not too shabby for each individual; however, with estimates saying by 2016 over 1 billion individuals will own and operate a smart phone, that’s a lot of pennies and a lot of energy! Fischer’s post says that the iPhone 5 sales are projected to reach 170 million within a year. Those 170 million devices will have collective electricity consumption equal to the same usage of about 54,000 U.S. households. Not only do the devices use energy while charging, but they also put a strain on data centers because of the Internet usage. On the flip side, Fischer does add that smart devices will really decrease energy usage over time because they actually divert usage from larger, less efficient devices (i.e. using your phone to check your email as opposed to using your desktop computer).

It’s amazing to watch and be part of a culture immersed in technology. So much has changed just within the past five years. Even children know how to operate smart devices. But how much is too much when it comes to smart phone and technology use? I already mentioned how the cumulative effect of use has a big impact, but a guide on WebMD discusses smart phone addiction and the negative consequences on one’s health. The constant distraction can diminish the ability to concentrate and has the potential to disrupt your work life and interpersonal relationships. 

Organizations such as the ‘Digital Detox’ offer entire weekend retreats to escape technology and immerse participants in days of healthy foods, meditation, yoga, hiking, guest speakers, good company, and a little R&R. My favorite idea is the concept of ‘Device-Free Drinks’, a happy hour sans any technology. No sharing of Facebook photos, texting, checking email, or taking calls. Instead, you show up, drop off your devices, and enjoy conversation, board games, massage lounges, music, and more.

There’s nothing wrong with indulging in Apps, playing games, keeping in touch with your friends or whatever you like to do with your smart device; however, what would be really smart would be to power down a little more frequently for a little bit longer. If not for the sake of the power grid, then do it for the sake of your own sanity and well-being. 

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Smartphone Solutions for Energy Problems

While doing research on a completely different topic I ran across a study that predicts smartphone usage will increase by 2600% by the year 2020.  If that is truly the case what is in store for smartphone technology in our future? 

Well, by 2020 smartphones are predicted to replace cash and credit cards as the preferred payment method. However, what I found most interesting is the advances in gadgets that will save energy and pay for themselves in a relatively short time such as the smart and Apple-esque thermostat designed by Apple alumni and iPhone designer Tony Fadell. 

As reported on Green Tech Media, Tony’s “Nest” thermostat distinguishes between radiant heat systems, heat pumps, and forced air, with a thermostat profile optimized for each system type. There are temperature sensors, humidity sensors, and ambient light sensors. Power comes over existing thermostat wires, which makes it compatible with 85 percent to 90 percent of American homes. The team wanted to make the product beautiful but unobtrusive. It's fair to say that the team succeeded -- the thermostat is a sleek piece of design that clearly betrays its Apple roots.

Thermostats need to turn off at night and turn off when we go away. They do not command the emotional connection we have with smart phones. It will be an enormous challenge for Nest to recreate the excitement of an entertainment product in a utilitarian device like a thermostat. But these engineers have overcome enormous challenges in the past.

--Dee Cox

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc
photo credit: Nest via photopin cc