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Lower Consumer Power Trend Masks Manufacturing Component

Does a drop in residential power usage – thanks in part to lower power semiconductor devices – really mean that the world is becoming energy efficient or does it hide manufacturing energy costs?

 A recent report from the Electric Power Research Institute  – a nonprofit group funded by the utility industry – concluded that the growth rate for residential power would decline over the next 10 years by about 0.5 percent a year.

Many factors contribute to this decline, including the use of more efficient lighting, energy usage improvements in newer and older homes, and cost conscious consumers in a sagging economy. But one factor, which will come as no surprise to the semiconductor industry, is the continuing evolution of lower power fixed and mobile electronic devices.

Consumer electronic devices consumer less power, but at what cost?

But does the power savings of new semiconductor devices really translate to a system-wide decrease in energy consumption? To answer that question, one would need to know the total power (energy) costs that go into manufacturing all of these electronic devices. With new semiconductor foundries costing billions and billions of dollars, these manufacturing costs are staggering. If not for the sheer volume of devices sold, no consumer would be able to afford a mobile device of any kind.

But including the manufacturing cost of each device would still not be enough to determine the total power consumption. Design costs would also be needed. Most of today’s designs involve teams spread all over the world, meaning that communication costs must be included, e.g., office lighting, and desktop-server-network power requirements.

Would the decline in residential power usage cited by the EPRI report really be enough to offset the design and manufacturing power costs for today’s “low-power” devices? As we continue to move toward a global community of consumers, this is the question that should be addressed to gain a true evaluation of energy trends.

2 Responses to “Lower Consumer Power Trend Masks Manufacturing Component”

  1. mfg Says:

    how much of the savings is actually in active device use? i bet much of the savings comes from eliminating 40W wall warts that don’t do anything. and i don’t think that production of a new wall wart is that much more intensive than the old ones.
    seems like a fairly pessimisitic article.

  2. jblyler Says:

    Not sure what you mean by, “eliminating 40W wall warts that don’t do anything.” Are you referring to TVs? The reports notes that energy useage is going down, in part (but it doesn’t say how much) due to lower power electronic devices. My point was that these engergy savings represent only part of the picture. One must also consider the power that went into creating these low-power devices. — JB

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