Energy-saving gadgets

While I was putting together my suggestions on Negotiating Christmas three weeks ago I came across a tech website advertising its “Top Five Energy Saving Gift Ideas Under $50” and an “Energy-efficient slow cooker.”

I didn’t include either of them on my pre-Christmas post (and I’m still not going to give them free publicity by linking to them here) because I found them somewhat problematic, but they are worth examining.

Energy-saving gadgets

Osram DOT-it Battery Operated LED Light
Know someone who is always cursing when they can’t find something in a dark cupboard or cabinet? This low-cost battery powered LED light could be the answer.

It’s a permanently installed strip light, so it’s ‘new’ only because the low power demands of LEDs will let batteries last long enough to be a sensible option. (If you haven’t noticed that LEDs in torches and lanterns provide about 50 times as much light per battery as the old incandescent globes, you’ve been living a very sheltered life.) But we are discovering that long battery life has a downside, especially for rarely-used gadgets: the batteries often leak before they run flat, ruining the device and creating more tech junk in the rubbish bin. Why not just use a torch?

EcoSwitch Standby Switch
A great gift for anyone who forgets to turn appliances off at the wall (and that’s almost everyone!). The EcoSwitch eliminates the standby power usage of TV, computer, and other entertainment equipment.

Unequivocally recommended. The greatest benefit is on appliances quietly burning up watts on standby for 15 or more hours per day. In my house, those are the TV and entertainment unit; in yours, maybe something else. This Choice article will give you more information.

Plug-in Power Meter
A great gift for anyone who wants to know how much their appliances really cost to run. Simply plug any appliance into this device and you can find out how much power it uses, and what it costs over time. Goes well with the EcoSwitch (above) to determine exactly which appliances should be switched off at the wall.

Recommended, for the reasons given, but it may be better to borrow one than to buy it. I had one and worked my way round the house with it but then what? It just sat in the cupboard until I passed it on to someone else, because I only needed its answers once.

LED Light Bulbs
It’s true to say a light bulb is not a very exciting gift. But I thought I’d put it in this list because people often do not realise that you can now get an LED light bulb for almost every light fitting. Like dimmable chandelier lights and even fluoro tube replacements.

Not very exciting gifts, indeed – one step up from socks and hankies? – but I guess that celebrating the increasing flexibility of LED lighting is fair enough.

The Billyboil Thermal Cooker
It cooks your food using retained heat, for up to 8 hours.

What is it? Think of a well-insulated slow cooker with a removable inner pot but no heating element. You put the inner pot on the stove to bring the contents up to a good boil, take it off the heat and drop it into the outer pot where – according to the spiel – the food continues cooking until it’s done and you’re ready to eat.

Now, we love our slow cooker (aka crockpot). It’s very efficient and it makes great meals, especially stews, soups and curries. However, given equally good insulation, there is no energy-saving advantage whatever in putting all the heat into the food in ten minutes instead of over ten hours; and I seriously doubt that this gadget will perform as well as it is supposed to. Still at a safe cooking temperature after eight hours? Maybe, but please note that they do say “up to eight hours,” and proceed accordingly.

The bigger picture

If we are to reduce our environmental footprint, we need to think about the whole impact of every purchase and see if it makes sense. Replacing something which works perfectly well with something which is a little more efficient will save a little energy, of course, but if it sends a serviceable device to landfill then the cost of saving that energy is the embodied energy of one device or the other. Is it still worthwhile, or should we wait until the old one wears out before buying the energy-efficient replacement?

The same logic applies to getting rid of the plastic in our lives. Replacing a useful plastic bowl with a glass or ceramic one benefits only the manufacturer and sales outlet.

And on the larger scale still, it has been shown that our environmental footprint is quite directly proportional to our annual expenditure. Shopping, even with the best of intentions, will usually increase our footprint. Living as though we don’t have much money – reducing, re-using, repairing and recycling as our parents  and grandparents did – will minimise it.

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