By Paula Felps on Aug 16, 2013

How Much Energy Is Your Smartphone Using?

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Switching to solar charging devices like this panel from Goal Zero can help reduce the amount of electricity being used.

Switching to solar charging devices like this panel from Goal Zero can help reduce the amount of electricity being used.

Smartphone apps are available to help us manage our home energy consumption (see examples). But our smartphones and other digital devices hog up quite a bit of energy themselves.

While we’re working to pull the plug on appliances that chow down too much electricity and are putting a stake through so-called vampire energy sources, our digital devices suck up way more electricity than we ever imagined.

A new report by Mark P. Mills, CEO of the Digital Power Group, breaks down just how much electricity all our technology is consuming. “The Cloud Begins With Coal: Big Data, Big Networks, Big Infrastructure, and Big Power” is an eye-opening report sponsored by the National Mining Association and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. The report’s objective was to provide an overview on how much electricity is being used by the digital demand on a global scale. Its results could serve as a wake-up call to an energy-conscious public.

Today, the Information/Communications/Technologies (ICT) ecosystem consumes about 1,500 TWh of electricity every year — a number equal to the entire amount of electricity generated annually by the countries of Japan and Germany combined. In fact, that ecosystem presently accounts for almost 10 percent of all electricity being used worldwide.

A Mobile Issue
For those trying to cut back on energy usage, the report raises new questions about what devices we’re using and how they consuming energy. Sure, charging up that tablet or smart phone requires a negligible amount of power. The heavy energy consumption comes from how those devices are used once they are fully charged. Consider the fact that watching just one hour of video on a tablet or smartphone every week consumes more electricity than two new, Energy Star-qualified refrigerators can consume in an entire year.

As digital devices continue to proliferate, energy consumption will multiply. Gone are the days when we had just one device per person; today the average American owns three devices, just slightly above the global average of 2.9 devices, according to the security company Sophos.

The mobile Internet demands far more energy than wired networks, and projections call for faster growth of the ICT infrastructure in the future.

According to Mills’ report, hourly Internet traffic will soon exceed the annual traffic of the Internet in the year 2000. And this creates a need for major improvements in efficiency.

A Time for Solutions
Some work is already being done in that area, such as constructing greener, more efficient networks that will greatly reduce energy usage. But in the meantime, how can you put the brakes on those high rates of energy consumption? Try some of the following:

Switch to a solar charger. Companies like Solio and Goal Zero offer chargers that allow you to use the sun’s energy to fuel up your tablet, smart phone and other gadgets.

Shut it off. Keeping your mobile device turned on overnight — or during other times when it’s not being used — only means that it will continue to use power unnecessarily. Consider powering down devices when they aren’t being actively used.

Turn off the vibration option. Did you know vibrations use up more energy than ringtones? If you aren’t comfortable with disabling them, at least turn them down.

Disable your GPS unless needed. When running in the background, this location service will consume more juice than an unsupervised three-year-old.

Cutting back on your personal energy consumption won’t single-handedly solve the challenges facing the electricity infrastructure, but like all sustainability measures, small steps can have a large effect when enough people take them.

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