Power Electronics

Globally Curbing Wasted Power

Over the years, more and more electronics seem to be pervading consumers' homes. We use remote controls to run TVs, VCRs, DVDs, and set-top boxes, keeping these devices plugged into the wall outlet permanently in standby mode. Concurrently, proliferation of cell phones and laptops has expanded the use of battery chargers that are also plugged into the outlet year-round. Yet all this comfort and entertainment comes at a price. These widgets are wasting energy when in standby mode. According to Power Integration, today's standby power consumption is almost 10% of the total consumption of a household in developed countries. In the United States alone, this amounts to $4 to $5 billion of wasted electricity. By one estimate, this wastage equals the output of 25 2MW fossil fueled power plants.

Such gadgets are slowly but steadily entering the homes of consumers in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. Especially in India and China, middle-class consumers in bigger cities are rapidly adding such electronic products to their homes. The electronic revolution has impacted the developing world. Now, the question is whether the developing countries can afford the same wastage as the developed world. Absolutely not.

Developing countries have limited power-generating plants and the population to serve is huge, creating frequent power cuts and regular power outages. Many villages, especially in India, still use age-old kerosene based lanterns to light up the home when the sun sets. Those who can't afford kerosene use wood fire.

However, the good news is that governments around the world have taken note of this wastage and have accordingly enacted regulations to curb it. Again, the developed countries are at the forefront of this conduct. The European commission, which took an early lead on this matter, has a mandate on on-load power consumption. Starting this year, the European code of conduct for no-load power consumption for external power supplies up to 150W will be below 1W. This voluntary agreement is expected to become mandatory by 2005. While there's no similar mandate in the United States, the Energy Star program that has focused on home appliances will be extended to cordless phones and answering machines. In addition, the presidential executive order signed by President George W. Bush requires federal agencies to use electronic devices that consume under 1W in the standby mode. Similarly, Japan, Australia, and other developed countries are taking action to curb unnecessary energy wastage.

Governments in the developing world, including Brazil, China, and Korea, have recognized this problem and are endorsing stricter legislation each year. Last year, China announced it will pursue a national standard of cutting standby power by 90%. Many other countries must also get aggressive on this front, especially India. However, until the masses are educated about this problem and the governments curb the import of inefficient appliances, it'll be tough to tackle this issue in developing world where the consumer is always looking for cheaper solutions. With the rate at which power semiconductor devices are progressing, I'm sure power supply makers around the world will cope with this global challenge sooner than we can imagine.

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