Renewable Energy for Consumer Devices

If we’re going to save the planet, we must extend sustainability into consumer’s hands.

Einstein is not impressed

In 2018, I conducted a study of the viability of collecting renewable energy (e.g. solar) to offset the carbon emissions that come from powering the devices we use everyday. The goal is to enable everyone – folks like you and me – to reduce our impact and secure a brighter future for humanity.

While the wealthy among us can afford to do this on their own by doing things like installing solar panels on their home, such is impractical for the average consumer. However, the companies who provide the products we use are in a position to manage their environmental impact in aggregate, by including carbon neutrality as an integral feature.

The easiest case to adopt is that of a smartphone. Fortunately, smartphones don’t consume enormous amounts of energy. According to my research, they consume on the order of 1 to 10 kWh of energy per year, with the median occurring in the vicinity of 3 kWh. Taken over a lifetime of 2.5 years, 7.5 kWh of renewable energy collected and used in a manner that offsets use of carbon-based energy would completely offset such a device’s carbon emissions.

While that might seem small on a per-device basis, Apple has nearly a billion iPhones in active use. Imagine the environmental impact of a billion iPhones. At 7.5 kWh each, that’s 7.5 TWh or trillion-watt-hours. A carbon-emitting monster!

If we simply take the wholesale cost of solar energy ($0.0632 per kWh), 7.5 kWh would cost just 47 cents! For a device with a component cost of $400 (a high end smartphone), that’s a mere 0.12% increase. The retail price of our gadgets wouldn’t increase significantly. The cost is negligible.

It is utterly practical and reasonable to offset carbon emissions of the products we use. The idea is applicable to smartphones, laptops, EV’s, even products which don’t use electicity, but whose manufacture produces carbon emissions. (Tesla-branded tequila anyone?) Linked below is an excerpt of a document I have been sharing with friends and colleagues to promote this idea.

If we are to save Earth’s climate and secure a brighter future for humanity, companies must include sustainability as an integral feature of the products they sell. I encourage you to contact the companies who provide the products you love and ask them to implement this plan.

[PDF] Renewable Energy for Consumer Electronics

Bob Burrough
February 10, 2019