Toronto Sun, Syd Bolton, May 2, 2015
Technology is wonderful and has enriched our lives in so many ways. As wonderful as it is however, it has made us reliant on electricity more than ever. From how Edison popularized the light bulb to how Apple has given us emotional attachments to our cellphones, electricity is the common thread with these devices and the technology behind them.
While technology has moved forward, electricity has essentially stayed the same. Sure, its distribution has (mostly) got better and we have more options on how to make it. But it’s more or less the same stuff and if you experience any major power outage you begin to realize just how reliant on it we have become.
Our use of electricity has changed somewhat when it comes to computers. An original IBM PC from 1981 would typically use around 200 watts of power (110 watts for the monitor and around 90 watts for the computer itself). Today’s desktop computers consume roughly 350 watts of power but it’s interesting to note just how the numbers have flip-flopped (20 watts for the monitor and 330 watts for the computer). Laptop computers use even less and tablets less still. Our “bang for the buck” as it were when it comes to electricity and computers has certainly got much better.
At the same time, it seems like electricity is costing more than ever as our need for it as a society grows. The costs of producing it and delivering it to us reliably have changed and now many of us have “peak” and “off-peak” and even “mid-peak” times where we can get better rates and change our usage patterns to help the distributors keep the wires shockingly full. Fortunately, we have new solutions that can help us monitor our usage patterns and make adjustments as necessary.
Blue Line Innovations makes a product called the PowerCost Monitor that allows you to see how much electricity you are using. An optional Wi-Fi add-on unit allows you to transmit your usage information from the monitor (which attaches to your outside meter) into the house and up to the cloud for analysis. There are standards for reading the data, which means there are apps to analyze and report on your usage so you can better understand your own situation and hopefully save you money.
Electric car manufacturer Tesla feels power is important too. It recently announced a line of home backup batteries that will provide backup power in the case of an outage to run not just one or two items but the majority of gadgets in your home.
As we keep using these electronic devices, we are going to need to be able to generate and distribute electricity in different ways. I feel like the possible fossil fuel crisis is a minor problem compared to our constant need for more and more electricity. Many of the ways we generate it requires other power sources (which kind of defeats the purpose) and while solar, wind and water methods all work I wonder if they will be enough for a society that grows more power hungry every single day.
What about you? Do projects, such as Earth Hour, make sense to you as ways of demonstrating what the world is like without electricity, and, more importantly, does it make you think about ways you can conserve it for not only your pocket book but for the health of our planet? It is one of those things that as a technology lover I feel we have been taking for granted.
It reminds me of one of my favourite childhood books – The Secret of NIMH – where intelligent rats realized they had been stealing electricity from a farmer and, to truly be on their own, they had to start generating it themselves. Maybe this is why sometimes we feel like we are running in the rat race.