Q. Greetings, all-knowing Answer Man: I was thinking about cell phones and how everyone has one now and is constantly on it. That led me to think about how it is also in vogue to “be green” — you know, conserving energy. CFL and LED bulbs, for instance. So just how much energy is used up in just the United States to keep all those phones charged?
— Connie Myers, of Fairview Heights
A. I know you’re advised not to, but did you ever slip a load of wet clothes into the dryer, turn it on and leave to run errands?
By the time you returned home, your dryer would have used twice as much electricity as you do when you fully drain and recharge an iPhone once a day not for a week, not for a month, but for an entire year, according to the Electric Power Research Institute.
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Doesn’t seem possible does it? Considering how many people have their phones in chargers around my office and how it feels like they take forever to juice up, it would seem that with hundreds of millions of cell phones in the United States alone, they’d be leaving a carbon footprint as big as Sasquatch or Godzilla. Add to that the iPads, 400-inch plasma TVs, computers, and the rest of the electronic gear we have, and you might think we should be fearing brownouts every day. But according to a detailed 2013 study in Forbes, modern gizmos are energy sippers compared to washers, stoves, water heaters and air conditioners, which, relatively speaking, guzzle power like there’s no tomorrow.
Mobile phones are a perfect example. It takes only 5.45 watt hours to charge an iPhone, so if you do that once a day for a year, you’re talking about using two kilowatt hours. At, say, 12 cents a kilowatt hour (the figure Forbes used), you can yak on your phone all year for 25 cents worth of power. While collectively, yes, that’s hundreds of millions of kilowatt hours across the country, individually you’ll use more electricity if you leave a 100-watt light bulb on for a day.
Here’s another shocker. Unlike most people, I suppose, I still have a VCR hooked to my TV even though I rarely use it. According to the Forbes article, that old clunker is drawing five watts per hour even when it’s off and flashing 12:00 at me at a cost of $5.25 per year, which is more than 20 times the power used to recharge my phone.
The same is true for other devices, according to the Forbes article. Draining and recharging an iPad every other day will set you back $1.50 per year (24 kilowatt hours) and a laptop will cost you $8 per year (72 kilowatt hours), which means you can run these three essential devices for less than $10 per year energywise. More expensive would be LCD TVs, (five hours per day, 167 kilowatt hours, $20 per year), plasma TVs (360 kilowatt hours, $45), Xbox ($40) and desktop computers with modem and router ($46). As you can see, phone cost and energy use is a drop in the bucket.
So, even though they’ve become much more efficient, the energy hogs continue to be the standard appliances we’ve relied on for decades. For example, cooking something in a 350-degree standard electric oven for an hour will use two kilowatts of power (25 cents) while nuking something on high in the microwave for 15 minutes costs just 4 cents. Likewise, powering a new refrigerator costs $42 per year (down 75 percent since 1980), washers and dryers will run up an estimated $300 on the average family’s power bill, water heaters come in at $600 and a 2.5-ton air conditioner will suck up more power in four minutes when it’s running than your phone does all year.
I know many people grumbled when the government ordered the end of incandescent light bulbs, but today we’re reaping the savings. Burning one 60-watt old-fashioned bulb for 10 hours a day gobbled up 220 kilowatt hours per year ($26), because half of all the power used by the light actually was converted into heat. By comparison, an equivalent 10-watt LED would consume a stingy 37 kilowatt hours for a total cost of $4.40 per year. So while you may suffer sticker shock over the cost of the bulbs, you obviously save big in the long run.
Bottom line: Experts say to forget the insignificant cell phone power usage and consider the energy you’re wasting in “standby” or “vampire” power — the electricity modern appliances eat simply by being plugged in. Although new limits have been put in place, it is estimated that such phantom consumption can account for as much as 10 percent of a home’s electrical use. Environmentalists suggest unplugging appliances when not in use or buying power strips that can be switched off.
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Answer to Sunday’s trivia: According to renowned historian David McCullough, we may owe the early development of the airplane to a hockey stick. According to his latest book, “The Wright Brothers,” Wilbur Wright was badly injured as a teenager by a bully with a hockey stick. He had intended to go to Yale, possibly to study art history or architecture. Instead, he became a recluse, staying home and reading “voraciously” about the possibility of flight. In 1903, his 32-year-old brother Orville flew their experimental plane at Kitty Hawk, N.C. “What seemed to be one of the worst things to ever happen to any of the Wrights caused a swerve in their lives that was immensely beneficial to the world,” McCullough said in an interview in this months’ American History magazine. “It’s a marvelous example of how truth can be both stranger than fiction and at times more powerful in its effect.”
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 618-239-2465.