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Every Little Doesn't Help

I have been preparing this blog for some time now around the idea that every little doesn't help. It is the big things that make the difference - small things make a small difference. It is ironic then that I publish this on the day when the slogan hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons.  

My phone announced that it was fully charged and that I should switch off the charging to save cash. So never being one to accept the phone companies at their word I set about checking it out. I connected my small multi meter in series with the phone charger and it seemed to be drawing about 4 milliamps but a flash in the meter didn’t seem like a good sign so I asked Mr Google. He said that a good charger would consume about .12 milliamps and a bad one 2 milliamps. So for the sake of argument lets go with 2 milliamps – assuming our voltage is about 230V then we get 460 millwatts or about .5 watt. Leave it on for a year and we consume .5*24*365/1000 kilowatt hours or about 4.3 kilowatt hours a year.

Now it appears that we in the UK use around 6, 000 kilowatt hours per year per person of electricity. So saving 4.3 kilowatt hours per year adds up to .07% per year.  I hear you say “Ah but every little helps”. Well it doesn’t. Turning every mobile phone charger off all of the time could at the very best save trivial amounts of power. The amount is even more trivial if we compare it to our average overall energy consumption which is about 18,000 kilowatt hours per year becoming .023%.

Climate Change Adviser Professor David Mackay in his classic free book available at http://www.withouthotair.com/download.html - makes this point:-

“The amount of energy saved by switching off the phone charger for a day, is exactly the same as the energy used by driving an average car for one second. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t switch phone chargers off. But don’t be duped by the mantra “every little helps.” Obsessively switching off the phone-charger is like bailing the Titanic with a teaspoon. Do switch it off, but please be aware how tiny a gesture it is. .... If everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little.”

Whilst we are concentrating on the evil the mobile phone charger does we would be far better off persuading those profligate Americans (and French and Germans) to get down to our levels. Especially since there are around 6 times as many of those pesky American gas guzzlers as us thrifty Brits. There is a graph here showing consumption trends - click on it for a full image.

Serious reductions in electricity usage are only to happen when we tackle serious electricity issues – like power used for lighting  - replacing conventional lighting with LED’s for example. 

For the real long term solutions to electricity supply we need to think really big and for once the politicians have got it right with the massive nuclear investment that is going in. And in the longer term we need to think even bigger with fusion power. Will it be the Taurus or the Laser that finally delivers the goal?