And they don’t even keep your milk cold… iPhones use more energy than fridges, says report

Macworld Australia Staff
22 August, 2013
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Australia’s Fairfax newspapers today reported on the ever-increasing amounts of energy your personal iDevices are using.

The attention grabbing headline was “An iPhone uses more energy than a fridge”, with the story detailing a few statistics to support the proposition.  ”A medium-sized, energy star fridge uses 322 kilowatt hours (kWh) each year. The average iPhone? 361,” according to an article in Fairfax’s Digital Life column.

The story was a response to a recent study called ‘The Cloud Begins with Coal’ conducted by technology investment advisory Digital Power Group, and sponsored by the US’s National Mining Association and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy. The study notes how smartphones, laptops, tablets, digital TV all require a lot of energy to operate, even when they sit idle. The 361 kWH figure includes Wi-Fi connection, data usage and battery charging.

Over at The Wall Street Journal‘s MarketWatch column, however, Quentin Fottrell has dug a little deeper into the results of the study, pointing out that charging an iPhone actually consumes 100 times less electricity than your favourite milk-cooling white goods appliance. “It takes around 3.3 kWh per year to charge an iPhone 4, according to the Electric Power Research Institute, a non-profit national energy research organisation. That’s less than the 400 to 450 kWh per year it takes to charge the average family refrigerator,” reported MarketWatch.

The article went on to note, though, that it’s the extras and add-ons of the smartphone that take things up a notch… or 300. “The hidden cost of running a smartphone is 40 kwh per year if the phone is used for voice and text, and then rises to 300 kwh with general usage — including the use of options like Siri and YouTube and 10 gigabytes of data per month.”

And, while a smartphone only uses about 500 kWh in its manufacture as opposed to fridges, which use double that, the life cycle of the device has to be taken into account. The average lifetime of a fridge is around 18 years, whereas people tend to update their phones every three to five years.

“When you buy a phone, you are also paying for the cost to build it,” said Mark P Mills, founder and CEO of the Digital Power Group.

The MarketWatch article also notes other studies, including a conflicting one published by Jonathan Koomey, research fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University. Koomey points out that the carbon footprint depends very much on whether people are using Wi-Fi or the mobile network: “How much high-definition video do you use on a cellular network? Not a lot.”

Unlike the Fairfax article, Marketwatch also pauses to mention that Samsung’s Galaxy phone faces similar accusations, linking to another study called The Systems Hackers Guide to the Galaxy, published by NICTA (Australia’s Information Communications Technology Research Centre of Excellence) and the University of New South Wales.

Back at Fairfax, this all adds up to a note of warning. “Analysts say our need for electricity will just keep growing, because no one knows how many devices or even what types of devices we’ll have in 20 years. And we keep them on all the time – lights and air conditioning you turn off, but not your phone.”

by Macworld Australia staff

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