Manufacturers and users of technology products have to be responsible for their energy consumption

Columns & Opinion

andy-merrett.jpgAndy Merrett writes…

So, the latest news is that many of our decrepit coal and nuclear power stations are coming to the end of their working lives, and something drastic needs to happen to ensure that Britain can generate enough power for our 21st century lives.

Whatever your view on nuclear power, fossil fuels, and greener alternatives, there’s no denying that we’re a power hungry nation.

We’re also lazy (but trying, of course.)

Be honest – you know that you’ve left your TV on standby a few too many times.

It’s true that we need new ways of generating power, but it’s also true that we all need to learn to be a lot more energy efficient. Before you turn off, this isn’t some “holier than thou” rant about how I’m living in a solar-panel clad house and sell my excess electricity back to the National Grid.

I like my home comforts as much as anyone else, and here’s the issue.

How much responsibility should technology manufacturers be taking in making their products more environmentally friendly, and how much is down to us?

The Government’s white paper on energy efficiency calls for a number of steps to be taken, including working with industry to phase out inefficient goods such as energy-consuming standby switches. I’ve already ranted about the ‘standby’ issue and the fact that some appliances don’t even have a proper OFF switch any more.

Turning off appliances fully is no more difficult than switching off a light, and requires just a little bit more of your own energy than using the button on the remote control.

Some manufacturers are making some effort to ensure their products are more energy efficient, even when we forget to turn them off. Sky have introduced an energy-efficient mode on their Sky boxes, Philips have introduced a Green Tick logo for more environmentally-friendly appliances, and Nokia are introducing energy saving alerts on their mobile phones and created USB phone chargers so you can utilise the power already being sucked up by your PC.

Even so, we seem ready to pick the most unfriendly appliances as their favourites. Australian consumers have mirrored European ones that prefer plasma HDTVs over LCD, despite their reputation and record.

We often blame big business for needlessly wasting electricity, but fail to look at what’s going on at home.

Then there’s the issue of digital switchover. Environmentally, this could be a catastrophe. Of course, old analogue TVs die at some point, but by 2012 we’ll all have been forced to either ditch old TVs for new ones (though, ironically, LCD screens are generally more energy efficient that CRTs of an equivalent size), or invest in Freeview boxes (which will probably have changed specification by then to accommodate new systems) which will sit humming away on standby when not in use.

Then there’s the rise in mobile communications, and the power implications of that.

And of course, there’s our hunger for ever larger TVs and the assorted paraphernalia (Blu-ray, HD DVD, Playstation 3, Xbox 360) so that we can all go high definition.

So who has the responsibility for attempting to be energy-efficient amidst all this entertainment and communications technology – manufacturers or consumers?

Well, predictably, both.

Of course there are people who couldn’t care less about the environment, but for those of us who do, it’s not difficult to do our bit to save energy without being forced on a guilt trip.

The Government would like to issue us all with “real time” displays so that we can see how much electricity we’re using, and setting up the world’s first carbon trading scheme for large organisations such as banks and government departments.

Maybe instead of spending time online looking for the cheapest energy providers, we should spend a bit less time in front of our various boxes, and get out and enjoy the environment a bit more instead. That’s the best way to save electricity.

Yes, it’s a complicated issue, with no easy answers, but if you don’t want to see a dozen new nuclear plants, or every hillside crammed with wind turbines, then we all need to look seriously at our energy use.

Now I’m off to Currys to pick up a solar panel or two…

Get your daily dose of ethical consumerism over at HippyShopper

Andy Merrett
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