If you don't know how much electricity your computer uses, you might want to find out. A computer can use 50 to 2,500 kilowatt-hours per year. In other words, you could be paying anywhere from $5 to $400 to power your computer each year. And offices with more than one computer…well, you can see where this is going. Cost aside, how much of all that energy is actually being wasted? Before you panic and yank out your hard drive or shut off your CPU fan, here are a few things you can try first.
PURCHASE EFFICIENT COMPUTERS
Buying energy efficient computers before your old ones are finished might not make financial sense, since the short-term savings won't be enough to cover the cost. But when you finally need to upgrade, there are numerous options available for greener computers. Epeat.net rates and reviews computers by how green they are, based on several points of inspection (material selection, product longevity, and energy conservation). The ultra-small Lenovo laptops and HP's Compaq Micro towers are among their “gold” winners.
OPTIMIZE ENERGY SETTINGS
Before buying a new desktop, check to make sure your energy settings are already optimized. Most operating systems (Windows, OS X) allow users to adjust power consumption based on efficiency and performance. Raising efficiency usually means lowering the power of the CPU, which will make it slower, so be aware there is a tradeoff. Your graphic design artist might curse you for that, but light users operating just Word or Excel probably won't even notice.
Ben Hewitt of The Daily Green writes, “It's stupid-simple to utilize the power management settings on your machine. It can save you over 400-kilowatt hours annually. Depending on what you're shelling out for electricity, that's a savings of about $40-$80 each year.” Perhaps the simplest way of reducing electricity costs is to lower the brightness on displays. Nearly all monitors have manual adjustment buttons on the front or the side. And lowering the brightness on your laptop could double its battery life.
MONITOR ENERGY USAGE
There are several applications available to help you manage and check your energy usage.
- Brightek Software's “Smart Brightness Controller” helps you adjust the display's brightness. In addition, if you have a webcam it will automatically fit the brightness to comfortably match your surroundings. The best part? It's free.
- PowerPanel helps users monitor their power supply. According to their publisher, “In the event of a power loss, PowerPanel automatically saves your files and safely shuts down your computer in an intelligent and orderly manner.” It also happens to be free.
- A simple application (and the most downloaded battery application on download.com) called “Imtec Battery Mark” allows you to stress test your laptop to check its battery life. You can test it under either full load or idle. At only 621K, it's so small and so free you may want to download two.
Cutting costs on electricity is probably the most fundamental way to go green. Glowing screens, spinning fans, and powered speakers are electricity usage at its worst and, therefore, waste at its worst. So start by installing electricity-monitoring software, then use that information to adjust your consumption, and finally, when it's time to upgrade, buy Epeat.net's “gold”-certified hardware.