Household Electronics Energy Use Outweighs More Efficient Appliances

Traditional household appliances have become more energy efficient in the past forty years, but households have not. The growing use of electronics plays a major role in the failure to benefit from more efficient appliances.

The Washington Post reported in 2010, "The amount of energy that the average American requires at home has changed little since the early 1970s -- despite advances in technology that have made many home appliances far more energy efficient…American homes are getting bigger, which means more space to heat and cool. And consumers are buying more and more power-sucking gadgets -- meaning that kilowatts saved by dishwashers and refrigerators are often used up by flat-screen televisions, computers and digital video recorders. "

I found this bit of behavior particularly relevant. "Troy Tanner…helps clients add insulation or seal leaks in air ducts, which saves energy needed for heating and cooling -- and money spent on bills. But often, Tanner said, neither the money nor the energy stay saved. 'When they start saving money on their bill, and they get that extra $100 per month,' they go out and buy a 96-inch TV that's on sale, said Tanner. 'The temptation is too much: They buy it.'"

That analysis does not even count our devices' the huge power consumption in the cloud, a hidden externality to most of us. A 2013 paper by Digital Power Group notes, "…although charging up a single tablet or smart phone requires a negligible amount of electricity, using either to watch an hour of video weekly consumes annually more electricity in the remote networks than two new refrigerators use in a year. And as the world continues to electrify, migrating towards one refrigerator per household, it also evolves towards several smartphones and equivalent per person."