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Smartphones Save Energy in the Big Picture

Linda Hardesty

The explosion in popularity of smartphones decreases the amount of energy used globally, according to Outlier, a research group that explores trends in how people use energy.

In 2012, smartphone sales volumes were estimated at 717 million retail shipments worldwide, a 45 percent increase from 2011. And people are using their smartphones to do lots of things they used to do on computers, televisions, and game consoles. But the cost to charge smartphones is minuscule in comparison to charging other electronic devices.

According to a study from Opower, Outlier’s parent company, the cost to charge an iPhone 5 is just $0.41 per year, and charging the Droid Galaxy SIII costs just $0.53. In comparison, the yearly cost to charge a PC is 20 times greater, and the yearly electricity cost of a plasma TV is 100 times greater.

Opower pulls energy data from 50 million homes and 75 utility partners and cross-references that with weather and demographic information to produce analyses in the Outlier series. Other Outlier-noted energy trends from 2012 include:

  • Natural gas overtook coal as the predominant fuel for power plants. The ascendance of natural gas stems from previously untapped shale formations, especially in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
  • According to the International Energy Agency, the United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer by 2017, and will become a net oil exporter by 2030.
  • Through the end of November 2012, the national average temperature was 3.3°F above the 20th-century average, and 1.0°F warmer than the previous record-setting January-November period (in 1934). The warmer weather resulted in more electricity demand for air conditioning. To deal with peak energy demand, utilities are budgeting around $1.3 billion per year on demand programs.
  • According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the US wastes more energy than it uses. The country is just 43.8 percent energy efficient. Of the 97.3 quadrillion British Thermal Units that flowed into the US economy in 2011, only 41.7 quads were used as energy services. Most of the wasted energy derived from inefficient power plants and internal-combustion vehicles.


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