Surprising Ways You Could Be Wasting Energy

Annual Earth Day observations provide an opportunity for some to rethink energy consumption habits — and with tech becoming more plentiful and pervasive, the time seems right to consider how much power those devices are using.

Credit: Bruce Irving

Reducing consumption can lead to substantial cost savings. Using sleep mode and the power management feature on a computer can save an estimated $50 annually, according to ENERGY STAR, the efficiency research arm of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Most of the following recommendations are simple and may provide a secondary benefit — extending the lifespan of our favorite devices.

Shut It Down

The debate over whether it’s best to shut down a computer overnight or leave it on because startup requires extra power has been settled by the federal government.

Guidance issued by the Department of Energy recommends turning off a monitor that’s not going to be used for more than 20 minutes, and powering down both the monitor and the computer if neither will be used for more than two hours.

According to Uncle Sam, the surge of energy required to power up is less than the amount of energy used when a computer is running for a long period.

The less time a computer is on, the longer it will last. Most modern computers, however, now reach the end of their useful life when tech innovations surpass their capabilities instead of as a result of a failure.

Computers also produce heat, so turning them off in the summer reduces cooling costs, particularly in offices with many computers.

Use a Strip

Printers, scanners and other so-called peripheral devices draw power even when they’re not in use. Plugging these devices into a power strip allows users to cease this needless drain of electricity with a flick of a switch.

Another option is to unplug each device individually.

Don’t Save the Savers

Screen savers are not energy savers.

Using a screen saver may in fact use more energy than a stagnant screen, and will definitely use more energy than a black screen.

Screen savers were designed to combat “burn in” on older CRT monitors, or when an image displayed for a prolonged period left an indelible mark on the monitor. These “ghost images” show whether a monitor was on or off.

But most modern monitors, many of which use LCD, or liquid-crystal display, are not at risk of burn in and therefore do not need screen savers.

The long-standing feature has mainly persisted as a personal preference — to display a montage of family photos or 3D graphics — despite the lack of functionality.

Cool It

Computers are not living things, yet it’s important that they can breathe. Clothing, lint and other obstructions can block cooling vents, reducing efficiency, requiring more battery power and shorting a battery’s life.

An accumulation of dust, lint and pet hair inside a computer can also hamper efficiency by clogging cooling vents.

Experts recommend using compressed air to blow it all away while taking particular care around the fragile cooling fans. Short bursts of air are better than a steady blast.  Holding a fan in place to prevent spinning can also reduce the risk of damage.

Bring New Meaning to Clean Energy

Another computer part that gets dirty is the battery. Contact points that are covered in dust or corrosion are another way a computer can lose efficiency over time.

Dampening a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol and using it to wipe the contact points on the battery and the device is an easy cleaning method. The points should be completely dry before the battery is reinstalled.

Nick Clunn is an award-winning journalist who has worked for several websites and daily newspapers, including The Record in New Jersey. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at Montclair State University. Follow him @NickClunn.

Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn is a journalist covering the tech beat and an adjunct professor at Montclair State University. He lives in New Jersey, where he had worked as a staff writer for several leading daily newspapers and websites.
Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn
Tags: Corporate Responsibility,Downtime,Gadgets & Devices,Technology