Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Computer Factories Are the Energy Hogs

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the fewer-drills-more-glue dept.

Portables 208

coondoggie writes "The main idea behind saving energy in the high-tech world has been to buy newer, more energy efficient devices, but researchers say that may be the wrong way to look at the issue, since as much as 70% of the energy a typical laptop will consume during its life span is used in manufacturing the computer (abstract). More energy would be conserved by reducing power used in the manufacturing of computers, rather than reducing only the amount of energy required to operate them, say researchers from Arizona State University and Rochester Institute of Technology."

cancel ×

208 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Battery life! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827454)

I'm more interested in the battery life then total energy savings!

Re:Battery life! (2)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827490)

Indeed. And how much more energy does it take to recycle the batteries that burn up faster if the laptops use more energy?

Re:Battery life! (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827706)

Given that you have to separate out very small quantities of materials, so it would be a good guess that it takes a hell of a lot of energy.

But why not stick to the illusion that "energy savings" advertised on the box are the absolute ultimate truth. Hey, it works for solar panels [csudh.edu] .

Re:Battery life! (2)

xaxa (988988) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828214)

But why not stick to the illusion that "energy savings" advertised on the box are the absolute ultimate truth. Hey, it works for solar panels [csudh.edu] .

I'm sure the referenced articles, from the 1970s and 1980s, apply to solar cells made in the last few years.

Re:Battery life! (1)

bemymonkey (1244086) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827856)

That's just it - the reason these mobile devices require far less energy to run than was required to manufacture them is that they're optimized for higher battery life, and therefore use relatively little power.

Compare this to desktops with 600W power supplies and I bet the figures will be completely different.

Re:Battery life! (1)

leromarinvit (1462031) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828052)

A typtical desktop might have a 600W power supply (though that's probably on the high side for non-enthusiasts), but during normal use, which for a typical desktop is around 90% idle, it doesn't use anywhere near that much.

Re:Battery life! (1)

bemymonkey (1244086) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828262)

This is true, of course, but there's still an an order of magnitude of difference between the actual power consumption of a laptop (10-40W + wall wart inefficiency depending on load) and a desktop (100-300W + PSU inefficiencies).

Re:Battery life! (1)

Technician (215283) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828330)

Many chip manufactures are making great progress along that area. ARM chips and the Atom from Intel both are designed to address the energy consumption issue.

On the power consumption issue on servers, both manufacturing energy and operating energy has been drastically slashed.
The just announced 10 core server chips with Hyperthreading mean much lower power consumption and a much smaller server footprint. The addition of solid state drives reduces CPU idle time.

I just saw a demo of a 4 CPU 10 core server. It is a little larger than a desktop computer. It idles at about 600 watts. When given the task of rendering 2 POV Ray 3D renderings at the same time, all 40 cores maxed out runninig 80 threads. The power consumption increased to just over 1KW but ran for just under a minute to complete both renderings.

That server in a data center would replace a rack of servers that would take a forklift to remove. At !~1,000 watts total including memory hard drives, etc., that is less than 150 watts per thread for a high power server.

On the manufacturing side, a desktop size box uses much less power to manufacture as well as recycle at it's end of life.

Misleading... (1)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827462)

That may be true, but unless it takes more energy to produce energy efficient computers than the savings in running them, it's still a net savings.

Re:Misleading... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827492)

Yes, but it does mean that throwing away an older device simply to buy a new more efficient one is counter productive.

Re:Misleading... (2)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827578)

Only if you're throwing away an older device for the sole purpose of saving money. A newer laptops cost will far exceed the difference in the cost to run it over its lifetime.

Also, consider the incremental effects. One doesn't get to a Chevy Volt in one step from a 1969 Mustang. Each step along the path of producing productrs for less energy requires that someone buy those products to pay for the next stage. Otherwise, we'd all still be driving 1969 Mustangs and the Prius would have never been built.

Re:Misleading... (1, Insightful)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827728)

Fortunately that problem has been "solved" by turning the company producing them into "Government Motors", then demanding they use 10% of our tax money on fantasy projects, which they'll never ever recuperate. Of course, with tax money, that's never an issue.

Re:Misleading... (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827906)

Oh what would Slashdot be without people such as yourself and misleading statements.

Re:Misleading... (2)

Computershack (1143409) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827838)

Otherwise, we'd all still be driving 1969 Mustangs and the Prius would have never been built.

It was proven some time ago that it is more environmentally friendly to keep old gas guzzlers on the road than it is to replace them with a new car simply due to the pollution and energy hits of the manufacturing process. Even so more with hybrids and electric cars using Li-On battery packs that need changing every 5 years. The increased fuel economy and lower emissions were not enough to offset the emissions and parts required to keep the older car running for the lifetime of the newer one.

Re:Misleading... (1)

skids (119237) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828582)

It was proven some time ago that it is more environmentally friendly to keep old gas guzzlers on the road than it is to replace them with a new car

[citation needed]

Some reactionary think tank or contrarian car magazine amateur journalist saying this doesn't make it true. Especially since we just did that with cash-for-clunkers and despite the obvious flaws of the program, it was pretty much a wash from an energy savings perspective. You have people arguing both ways on the matter, but the difference of opinion among serious analysts is marginal [wikipedia.org] . When you ask the kooks with political agendas, of course, it's all a plot to create a one-world government (see above.)

Had cash-for-clunkers not been lobotomized by the legislature to allow Hummers to be purchased, and had it allowed very old vehicles to be traded, it would have done more than just broken even, environmentally, even though that was not its primary purpose.

A good rule of thumb is that, since you cannot manufacture anything without paying for the energy to do so, you can compare the product purchase price with the price of the energy savings potential to see if you are in the ballpark on energy/carbon savings. This gives you an outer envelope past which anything that succeeds that test is a no-brainer.

Since there are premium costs involved, there's a large gray area where a new thing may or may not save energy over its useful lifetime.

Re:Misleading... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827532)

That may be true, but unless it takes more energy to produce energy efficient computers than the savings in running them, it's still a net savings.

The title you wrote fits your comment, not the article. The amount of time between upgrades is a huge factor here since the energy spent making older devices has already been spent - you would have to have a 70% reduction in energy usage just to break even with the consumption of energy building the device - when you factor in a 5-15% average reduction in operating energy per upgrade (at best) it only makes sense in "green" terms to upgrade every 5-14 versions of a device - absolutely not whenever a performance increase comes out - and thats not even accounting for the energy spent recycling the devices (or the long term effects of dumping things that [all] have toxic chemicals.

Re:Misleading... (2)

Talderas (1212466) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827772)

I think most greens tend to miss the amount of energy consumed by the industrial sector. Considering that it consumes more energy than residential and commercial combined, it's not surprising that the amount of energy used by a laptop over its lifetime is less than what it takes to manufacture it.

The energy usage by the industrial sector is why energy sources like solar and wind aren't acceptable. It's the industrial sector that drives the majority of the base load for power demands. There's nothing quite like, "Yeah, there's not enough wind today to generate enough power for us to run our industrial machines. We have to send you home today early. Also, you're not getting paid for the time you should have been here if we had power."

Re:Misleading... (2)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828148)

Well, obviously the solution is more unions!

/sarc

Re:Misleading... (1)

skids (119237) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828648)

The energy usage by the industrial sector is why energy sources like solar and wind aren't acceptable

Quite to the contrary, the industrial sector is the most flexible sector power-wise, as you can see from the fact that it is common for industry to coordinate its energy use with the utility. Also a lot of industry use is heat related, and happens during the day, and as such solar thermal preheating is becoming a popular cost shaving measure in industry. As power storage becomes cheaper it's almost a guarantee that industry will be interested in it -- even without much renewable variability, the financial risk of a brown-out is often worth mitigating.

Re:Misleading... (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827552)

What happens if you avoid buying a new one? Keep the old one for a while longer... eg. until it actually stops working.

Re:Misleading... (1)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827642)

That really depends on the usage. if you take 10 P33's and use them to do protein folding, it would probably be an overall energy savings to replace them with a single Core i7 laptop, even if you factor in the cost to produce the new laptop. You would gain more operations per second for less total energy cost.

Re:Misleading... (2)

JanneM (7445) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827748)

Keeping the computer for as long as it works is a good idea, absolutely. In my limited experience, though, a laptop really isn't made to last much longer then the typical 3-4 years they get used.

I've always "used up" my laptops the past decade or so. I have big machines at work for the heavy lifting, and any decent laptop made the last ten years is enough for my surfing, writing and so on. I'm a heavy user, admittedly, but so far my track record is 3-4 years.

The screen dims and grows red as the (non-replaceable) backlight starts to go. The keyboard becomes mushy, keycaps fade and keys and trackpads start failing from accumulated damage from spilled liquids, dust and debris. The disk starts to fail, connectors may wear out and the battery max charge creeps toward zero. Any one of those may be fixed individually, but you don't pay for a new disk, keyboard or battery for a computer that's already slowly failing in other ways.

Re:Misleading... (1)

tukang (1209392) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828124)

You don't even have to avoid buying a new one. Just by putting your old laptop on ebay you're doing the environment a great favor. It doesn't go to a landfill, you're destroying demand (so less new computers need to be manufactured), and the person who bought it from you will likely care for the computer because they paid for it. If you think your old laptop isn't worth anything then just start the auction at a penny. I got $70 for a laptop I had no use for.

Re:Misleading... (1)

0-until-pink (202599) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828250)

That sort of makes environmental "scrappage" schemes redundant then doesn't it? The government before this one here in Ireland introduced a scheme where you could get an automatic €1500 deducted from the price of a new car if you scrapped one that was over 10 years old. However the scheme has been running for more than 5 years now so all the old rust buckets are now arguably off the road and we are creating a financial incentive for people to scrap a healthy old car in favour of buying a spiffy new one.

Re:Misleading... (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827656)

Also, the productivity increases allowed by the use of laptops and computers far outweigh the alternative energy costs, by several orders of magnitude I'd say. I'm all for efficiency, but there is a distressing tendency to look at any energy use as being a bad thing. Energy is not in short supply, the only deficiency is in our ability to harness it effectively, an issue which I anticipate will be addressed over the coming fifty to a hundred years.

Re:Misleading... (2)

Computershack (1143409) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827872)

What productivity increase? When it comes to the most common use of computers, the office and normal home use (email, documents, web browsing, listening to music), performance ceased to be an issue over half a decade ago which is why Netbooks and Net tops got away with using a new CPU design slower than that of the old Pentium-M series. A faster CPU cannot make the internet come to your computer any faster or you type a document any quicker.

Re:Misleading... (2)

danhaas (891773) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827798)

That's the case when the energy of building a new one is more than the double of the energy consumed by the total lifespan of the laptop. (remember that 70% is used to manufacture, 30% to operate it). Even if a newer one consumes zero energy, the manufacturing process will offset that.

As a mechanical engineer, I can tell you that bending, cutting or melting metal requires a LOT of energy. Try manufacturing a screw from a piece of metal using just simple tools and you will understand it.

If you want precision, like in a processor chip, the process becomes much less energy efficient.

Plastics are much cheaper to handle; I have no idea about sylicon though.

Re:Misleading... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827882)

This is not misleading.

What is misleading is the renewable-energy-only propaganda that somehow a few panels on some house will power the world. The facts are that energy usage is increasing world wide and generally due to energy needs of producers, not just consumers.

Consumers don't forge steel. Consumers don't crack oil for distillates. Consumers don't grow pure silicon crystals. Consumers only use the end-result and end-result can have tremendous amount of energy behind it.

Simply considering the CPU - you cannot significantly decrease energy usage of a chip fabrication plant, or some motherboard assembly plant. But large amounts of energy are required to produce these things. For things like cell phones or tablets, the energy usage in production from raw materials greatly exceeds energy usage of these devices for their entire usable lifetimes.

Finally, China is burning over 50% of world coal production right now. Its depend will only increase. Keep in mind that majority of rural residents still don't have appliances like refrigerators. Simply running additional 200,000,000 of these will create additional demand for 60,000,000,000 kWh, assuming the most energy efficient model available! That's a need for about 10,000MWe generation capability, or if using renewable sources only, close to 30,000-50,000MWe, since these run at shitty load capacities (you know, 40% wind load is great and 25% solar load is theoretical maximum). And how much energy is required to build 200,000,000 fridges??? You'd need to double energy consumption just to make these fridges fast enough to outpace their eol.

Reduced prices too! (2)

Dan East (318230) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827484)

And of course if it requires less power to manufacture, then it is less expensive to produce. Thus the prices of consumer electronics would drop. Wait for it... wait for it.... Bwahahahahahahahaha! Oh I just cracked myself up. The only difference we'd see is a little green sticker on the box where the OEM is bragging about saving the environment or something.

Re:Reduced prices too! (2)

fridaynightsmoke (1589903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827538)

And of course if it requires less power to manufacture, then it is less expensive to produce. Thus the prices of consumer electronics would drop. Wait for it... wait for it.... Bwahahahahahahahaha! Oh I just cracked myself up. The only difference we'd see is a little green sticker on the box where the OEM is bragging about saving the environment or something.

You're right. The prices of consumer electronics never drop.

Re:Reduced prices too! (1)

AJH16 (940784) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828048)

I have a $4000 hard drive to prove it.

Re:Reduced prices too! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827556)

In the obscenely competitive consumer electronics industry?

Someone like Michael Dell is probably looking at this article and telling his suppliers to get to it while telling his assembly plants to do it NOW!

The others will follow - except for maybe Apple, then again, they've surprised me before ....

Re:Reduced prices too! (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827576)

Yeah, I still can't get over the fact that even low end desktop PCs still cost over $1,000...oh wait, no they don't.

Re:Reduced prices too! (1)

hsmith (818216) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827612)

Yeah, evil capitalism, that is why 256k of RAM is still $5,000

Re:Reduced prices too! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35828638)

I'll bet if you can find a SIMM (did they even use simms that far back?) in good working order, and you really need it, it might actually cost you that much.

I have a nifty story about a company that ended up with absolutely critical data... on a stack of floppy disks. (it's really rather outrageous how we ended up here) In any case, they paid my company nearly 4,000$ to recover the data from those disks. We went to a tech bazaar and purchased every floppy drive we could find. 2 out of 7 worked, we dumped the disks and burned the data in quad to CDs and to a small harddrive.

I have another story about MY company paying $3,000 for a motherboard, ram and processor for a 386 machine. USED. This was less than 7 years ago. Sure we could replace the machine with one of our other systems, but the system runs a specialized Fiche scanner and it ONLY runs on Win 3.11, and the only copy of the operating software in existence, was installed into that 3.11 install. Rather than take a risk rebuilding with new hardware and trying to emulate the operating environment, the owners decided they'd rather pay for replacement hardware, for the grossly outdated system. 6 months later the Fiche scanner took a dive and was replaced by a modern system. (155,000$ for that modern scanner system, BTW)

It where the energy comes from. (1, Insightful)

bobs666 (146801) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827514)

If the energy is green enough then its not a issue. Bring on the Green! Nuclear Reactors. Not the ones with pumps that can fail.

Misleading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827802)

Nuclear power is greener, but it is a far cry from "green" as in (for example) solar. Don't try to paint a false picture where nuclear is the holy grail.

As much as... (5, Insightful)

fridaynightsmoke (1589903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827520)

Apart from the weasely "as much as"; interesting that laptops are being compared, knowing that they have much lower power consumption (on average) than desktops while requiring almost the same amount of manufacturing.

As a quick back-of-an-envelope calculation; a 100W computer, used for 5 hours a day, 6 days a week for 5 years uses 780kWh of electricity. At current approximate UK prices that's £125 ($200 US). If computer manufacturing uses a significant fraction of that amount of power, then there is already a BIG incentive for the manufacturers to use less. If you tell them "you should use less of this thing that costs you money!" they will likely reply "well, duh", or if current trends continue they'll say "well, as part of our Greener World Of Tomorrow Plan, we're actively trying to reduce..."

Re:As much as... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827764)

And what is it at Chinese prices? That's where most of the computers get made.

Re:As much as... (4, Informative)

tixxit (1107127) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827996)

Unfortunately, most laptops are not manufactured in Britain, but in countries with much cheaper (and dirtier) electricity.

Re:As much as... (1)

fridaynightsmoke (1589903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828464)

Unfortunately, most laptops are not manufactured in Britain, but in countries with much cheaper (and dirtier) electricity.

The price of the electricity is still very significant; in China for instance the electricity is cheaper than in the UK, but then everything else is too.

A little light research gives a wholesale price of $0.07 (£0.043)/kWh - http://www.vneconomynews.com/2011/03/china-attempts-to-raise-electricity.html [vneconomynews.com] - so the retail price will be higher than that. Even at the wholesale price, using the calculation i used above that comes to some £30 of electricity, and £30 is a lot of money in China.

Re:As much as... (1)

leromarinvit (1462031) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828100)

Apart from the weasely "as much as"; interesting that laptops are being compared, knowing that they have much lower power consumption (on average) than desktops while requiring almost the same amount of manufacturing.

They probably compare laptops because laptop sales are higher than desktop sales. Most new computers are laptops.

Re:As much as... (1)

jittles (1613415) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828184)

Apart from the weasely "as much as"; interesting that laptops are being compared, knowing that they have much lower power consumption (on average) than desktops while requiring almost the same amount of manufacturing.

For the average user on /. I am sure that the energy consumption for manufacturing a laptop is MUCH higher than a desktop. For instance, I have been using the same case, PSU, monitor, keyboard, mouse and such for years, even through several CPUs and motherboards. It's just much easier to recycle a desktop's components.

Too much thinking (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827526)

Simple solution:
- compute the benefit of conserving 1 kWh of energy in dollars
- make sure that the cost of 1 kWh equals that amount, by adding taxes if necessary
- let the market handle the rest

How much energy to manufacture a solar panel? (4, Interesting)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827534)

I've often wondered why I never hear that mentioned when people talk about clean energy. How much energy and resources go into making a single solar panel or wind turbine? Anyone?

Re:How much energy to manufacture a solar panel? (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827698)

Not much energy goes into making a solar panel. Solar panel prices have been dropping dramatically over the past decades, and that would not be possible if they consumed lots of energy during manufacture because energy prices have gone up during that time. Currently, solar panels cost on the order of $1 per watt of power they can generate. Consuming one watt of electricity for a year costs on the order of $1. If the solar panel produces maximum power for an average of eight hours per day, it can generate at least as much energy as it uses during manufacture in only three years of use, even if all of the cost of the solar panel were the energy used to produce it. The claims I've seen that solar panels take more energy to produce than they generate during their lifetime are way, way off.

I just calculated how much time a wind turbine system would pay itself off in my area, and I found it would pay for itself in ten years. Again, if it's paying for itself, it must be generating more energy than it took to produce it, because it would be cheaper to just buy the energy directly rather than indirectly purchase more energy by purchasing the turbine system.

Re:How much energy to manufacture a solar panel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827800)

If you factor in the fact that energy prices are going to continue to rise then the payoff is much sooner. Like 3 years.

Re:How much energy to manufacture a solar panel? (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827920)

Changes in price have exactly no effect on how much energy is required to produce the item or how much energy it will produce. And hence are irrelevant to the calculation at hand.

Re:How much energy to manufacture a solar panel? (1)

satch89450 (186046) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828000)

I just calculated how much time a wind turbine system would pay itself off in my area, and I found it would pay for itself in ten years. Again, if it's paying for itself, it must be generating more energy than it took to produce it, because it would be cheaper to just buy the energy directly rather than indirectly purchase more energy by purchasing the turbine system.

Did you factor in the energy cost of replacement blades and gearboxes over the life of the turbine in your calculations?

Re:How much energy to manufacture a solar panel? (1)

amorsen (7485) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828674)

You don't replace wings. Gearboxes are only replaced if they fail; their design life time is supposed to be as long as the life time of the entire turbine (at least 20 years).

Re:How much energy to manufacture a solar panel? (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828030)

If the solar panel produces maximum power for an average of eight hours per day

then you need a tracking system. A fixed solar panel only produces maximum power once per year.

Re:How much energy to manufacture a solar panel? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827712)

The energy balance analysis in the case of the Vestas V90 3.0 MW shows that, for an offshore wind turbine 0.57 years (6.8 months) of expected average energy production are necessary to recover all the energy consumed for manufacturing, operation, transport, dismantling and disposal.

http://www.wind-energy-the-facts.org/en/environment/chapter-1-environmental-benefits/energy-balance-analysis.html

Re:How much energy to manufacture a solar panel? (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827740)

You should try listening to people talk about clean energy, then. It's one of the most common canards out there.

As for how much energy goes into making a solar panel, you can search for it yourself. Google is easy to use. Hint: in general, energy recapture time (amount of time before the energy the device produces is greater than the energy used to produce the device) is shorter than payback time (amount of time before the value of the energy it produces is greater than the cost of the device).

Re:How much energy to manufacture a solar panel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827806)

Ive posted that very answer to you before, Where it showed that there is MUCH less manufacturing costs for a wind turbine or solar panels per kilowatt then a coal, natural gas or nuclear plant.

Quit playing stupid.

If I have time ill find the answer for you again, just to point it out for everyone else.

Re:How much energy to manufacture a solar panel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827982)

http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2008/03/the-ugly-side-o.html

Logically, if we make the same calculations for a solar insolation of 900 kWh/m (the yearly average in Western Europe and in the Northeast and Northwest USA), the results get worse. In the worst case scenario (US grid, mono-crystalline silicon), emissions rise to 104 gram CO2 per kilowatt-hour of solar generated electricity, which makes solar panels only 4 times cleaner than gas. Now let’s play a bit with the life expectancy.

For rooftop and ground-base installations, the eco-friendliness can be good or doubtful, depending on the solar insolation and the life expectancy. But if we consider solar panels mounted on gadgets like laptops or mobile phones, solar energy becomes a plainly bad idea.

If we take a life expectancy of 3 years (already quite optimistic for most gadgets) and a solar insolation of 900 kWh/m (quite optimistic too, since these things are not lying on a roof), the result is 1,038 gram CO2 per kWh in the worst case scenario (high-efficient mono-crystalline cells produced in the US). That means that it is better for the environment to power a gadget with electricity generated by coal, rather than by a solar panel.

It should be realized that solar panels first raise the amount of greenhouse gasses before they help lowering them. If the world would embark on a giant deployment of solar energy, the first result would be massive amounts of extra greenhouse gasses, due to the production of the cells

Basically, solar panel needs to produce electricity efficiently for at least 5-10 years before its CO2 balance from production, installation, mining, etc. comes back to 0. As to the cost at current electricity prices, well, they may pay for themselves after 20-30 years, maybe.

Solar-thermal panels pay for themselves much more quickly, within 5-years for most applications.

Alternative energy uses plenty of resources (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828200)

When people mention so-called "clean" energy they sweep under the rug any inconvenient fact.

Both solar and wind power are very diffuse, they need huge areas of land. They say, "oh, it's just desert" if you mention the fact that you need hundreds or thousands of times more area for a solar plant than for a nuclear plant of the same power capacity.

Mention how wind turbines kill birds and bats and they will say "oh, that was the Altamont pass, that's obsolete by now". They never mention how obsolete the Chernobyl plant was when it blew up.

The fact that this huge use of resources by solar and wind power plants is disregarded so cavalierly worries me a lot. What would be the impact on weather patterns if a sizable part of the desert was covered by solar collectors? Or if we collected a sizable amount of wind power? The sheer size of the systems needed to collect any significant amount of solar or wind power is something that should make us very careful.

One would think that people should be more coherent. If they were worried about the danger itself, the same people who go "OMG, it's NUCULAR! DANGER!" when anything happens at a nuclear power plant should be trying to find out everything bad that could happen as a result of using wind or solar power as well.

Re:Alternative energy uses plenty of resources (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828532)

A 100 mile by 100 mile solar power plant would provide the power needed by all of the United States [americanen...ndence.com] . Once constructed, it would need no continual refueling by mining or drilling materials such as coal, oil, or fissionable material. It would generate nearly no waste products. The source of power would never run out as long as the Earth is habitable. I don't think it would have a noticeable impact on the weather; if you can find some research that suggests it might I would be interested in seeing it. The real problems are the cost it would take to construct the plant, and the problems of storing and distributing the power once collected. The benefit to the system is the amazing low amount of resources it would consume compared to other methods of generating power.

Re:How much energy to manufacture a solar panel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35828616)

Less energy than it takes to find, extract, transport, refine, transport again - the equivalent amount of energy in the form of oil. Building the required equipment for all that is also not free from energy and resources

Same with the Prius (1)

Glarimore (1795666) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827548)

All the people who upgrade their "gas guzzler" to a Prius end up hurting the environment more than if they had continued to drive their previous vehicle, simply because of the energy and waste involved in producing a new car -- regardless of whether the car energy efficient or not.

Re:Same with the Prius (2)

kundziad (1198601) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827716)

Please stop propagating lies.

It is not the same with the Prius. At least not as far as energy consumption is concerned.

In case of a car the energy consumption in manufacturing is on average an order of magnitude smaller than the energy consumption during its use. We are talking 10% of total consumption vs more than 80%. You can refer to page 10 of these notes (pdf) [cam.ac.uk] to see the figures for an average family car.

In case of assessing energy impact of various stages of product manufacturing common sense will never help you. You just have to do the calculations.

Re:Same with the Prius (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827732)

This assumes, of course, that you're buying a brand-new Prius and that buying a brand-new car and keeping your current car are equally-viable options.

Re:Same with the Prius (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827760)

And that after you buy the brand new Prius, you light your old car on fire instead of selling it so that it is used by someone else, who alternatively would have had to have a brand new car made for them. And even with those assumptions, GP is still wrong, which is why he stated a fact without the slightest attempt to cite a source. There's an enormous amount of truthiness to the statement, but unfortunately no actual truth to it.

Re:Same with the Prius (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827782)

It depends on whether you're going for clean air or energy efficiency. The gas guzzler will likely produce more emissions from running than building and running the Prius. PHEVs won't be economical compared to hybrids until gas is over $6.00/gallon. The only exception may be the Leaf after rebate. A solar roof on the vehicle to charge the batteries is better as the sun can't be taxed (yet). If you could average 5kWh/day from 16% efficient panels, that would give you 4380 free miles of driving per year, assuming the 2012 Prius numbers are accurate of 12 miles per 5kWh charge. If you could get 40% efficient panels, then the annual range goes up to almost 11,000 miles. 40% efficient cells exist [gizmag.com] as of over four years ago. A real advantage is that you could never be "out of gas" in a desert.

Re:Same with the Prius (2)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827792)

Incidentally, it costs about a thousand gallons of gas worth of energy to build a new Prius. Depending on the mpg of your gas guzzler, it can take as little as 25,000 miles to pay off the energy cost of building the Prius.

Re:Same with the Prius (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827934)

Because the person just throws away the old car, like an old laptop??? No it continues to get used by the next owner(s) until it dies... No net loss, unless average people start collecting cars instead of trading them in.

Put some Apple style spin on it (1, Troll)

Cloud K (125581) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827570)

"Our new Macbooks are so energy efficient, they take even less energy to run than to manufacture them in the first place, making the lifetime energy consumption (% of total) our lowest EVER!"

Re:Put some Apple style spin on it (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828056)

Except that the machining process for the unibody chassis is very energy intensive (expensive), as opposed to a casting or molded plastic part.

Re:Put some Apple style spin on it (1)

Cloud K (125581) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828180)

Yeah it appears you missed the joke about marketing spin, seems to have gone over a few heads that one.

You're not supposed to care about that! (3, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827572)

The part you are supposed to care about is when you own and use it, not how it was made -- that is a matter that happens before it gets to you, so it doesn't concern you. Now, when I am saving energy, do I need to wear a green rubber band on my wrist? I've got this white one, yellow one, pink one... everyone needs to know what a great person I am.

Re:You're not supposed to care about that! (1)

leonardluen (211265) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827664)

i really don't care how much power it takes to make or how much power i use at home. if the power we have now is somehow bad, lets focus on finding cleaner power then we don't have to reduce how much we use.

Re:You're not supposed to care about that! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827762)

There is no magic bullet. Solar and fusion are the only two sources viable for our population size, and both have issues. We can't get a net gain from fusion processes we can currently conduct, and solar panels are too inefficient (Doesn't even collect energy to replace itself.) Another issue we have is power lost from transport, super conductors could help, but we can't sustain them at "room" temperatures.

If you care nothing for the future and live solely for yourself, then this doesn't matter. But as soon as we run out of oil, the type of life you live, of relative ease, will come to an end, and many people will die due to starvation and social breakdown.

We need to conserve our resources and reduce consumption, to give us time to find a solution.

Re:You're not supposed to care about that! (1)

leonardluen (211265) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827984)

there are plenty more options than that.

what about wind? hydro? geothermal? ocean wave/tidal generators? and fission?

there are plenty of better options for nuclear now, but we have added self imposed limitations on them. we are afraid to build new reactors because the old 70's style reactors are dangerous and scary...well we have come a long way since then. lets demolish those and build better ones that don't have those issues. another issue everyone seems to always cite is the buildup of nuclear waste...well why aren't we recycling it? we recycle everything else. A great thing about nuclear waste is that we can recycle it into new fuel. but we have imposed limitations on ourselves because the reactors that can recycle the fuel can also be used to make materials for bombs. so we find it is better to drown ourselves in the nuclear waste to make sure we can't make any more bombs. well when we already have enough to glass the entire earth does it really matter if we can make one more?

a complaint against hyrdo is that it destroys habitation for wildlife, well the reservoir created by a dam also creates habitat for other creatures.

Re:You're not supposed to care about that! (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828206)

Geothermal and hydroelectric can produce at most a small fraction of the power we use. Fission burns fuel, and we have only a limited supply that may last a few hundred years. I'm not sure how much of our power we can get from wind and tides, but there's much more than enough direct solar energy, and it never runs out.

Re:You're not supposed to care about that! (1)

leonardluen (211265) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828392)

add a small fraction here, and a small fraction there then eventually you will have a big fraction.

solar power is a good thing to work on, however we don't get all our electricity from a single source now. we spread it out to a number of different source. we get some from nuclear, some from coal, some from oil. getting it from multiple sources adds redundancy in case something happens to one of them.

yes, hydro and geothermal are more localized to geographic areas, but the places that have it can still power a several towns with it. each town you power is still one less that needs non-renewable sources such as coal or oil. isn't that a step in the right direction?

Re:You're not supposed to care about that! (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828042)

Solar panels do collect enough energy to pay themselves off. There would be no reason to use them when other energy sources are available if they didn't. They're also becoming cheaper to produce and more efficient all the time. It will take a long time before we can use them for most of our energy needs, but it's getting there. Fusion, on the other hand, may never become practical for generating energy.

Economics (4, Insightful)

tbannist (230135) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827582)

This isn't really a consumer issue. There's no easy way for a purchaser to determine how much energy went into creating a computer, on the other hand, the amount of electricity used by the device however is easily determined and verifiable independently. Plus the purchasers pays the cost of running the machine as a separate cost, while the cost of the energy to produce the device in bundled in the purchase price. That's why people look more at how much power the computer uses (when they look at all).

Reducing the energy required to produce computers is essentially a manufacturer concern and they should already be working on that as a competitive cost advantage. I would guess it's probably not happening because most of these items are manufactured in countries that heavily subsidize their power systems and thus encourage waste by not requiring users to pay the full cost of the power they use. You want to reduce the power wasted during the production of goods? Stop subsidizing power usage and make sure the full costs are bore by the manufacturers. That's one of the reasons why a carbon tax would be disastrous. Companies will adapt to the tax and focus their efforts on more efficient production.

Re:Economics (2)

Lawrence_Bird (67278) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827640)

I would add to the above good commentary that the figure quoted, 70% of total energy used in production, probably applies to very many consumer devices (no, not just electronics). How much energy does a hand mixer use compared to what it takes to make it? Rechargable electric razor? I agree that this is a misleading and probably not very valuable metric.

Re:Economics (3, Insightful)

trout007 (975317) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827682)

That is the beauty of price. It lets you know the most efficient way to do something without having to calculate how much of everything is used along the way. The only flaw like you stated is when the market is prevented from working correctly. Things like targeted taxes or tax breaks, subsidies, price control, and letting companies pollute in a way that externalizes costs (dumping waste in public water/air vs paying for proper disposal.)

Re:Economics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35828482)

That's one of the reasons why a carbon tax would be disastrous. Companies will adapt to the tax and focus their efforts on more efficient production

wait, what? How is this bad? If they're finding more efficient means of manufacture, then it's a success. Falling revenue from a carbon tax is a sign of success, because it means less pollut

Laptop is an extreme example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827644)

...for this arguement because it's major design feature is that it IS energy efficient because it must sometimes run off a battery, and its lifetime/replacement time is short, without charging the battery (which doesn't count since you'll get that energy back later) most laptops consume 40W, and are likely be replaced by a new laptop in 2-3 years which means lots of manufacturing for not much usage. Similar devices (desktop PCs, big screen TVs etc) cost around the same, use far more power, are used more often, are possibly used for longer and (I'd wager) might consume a similar (same order of magnitude) amount of energy to produce.

A car (while admittedly using a different energy source) with power consumption 3 orders of magitude more than the laptop, would that take 3 orders of magnitude more energy to produce?

And why is that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827654)

Because in the past few years power comsuption for all mobile devices went WAY down. Also it's not a pure matter of reducing power everywhere, some places have greener energy than others. Most factories probably aren't powered by coal power plants unlike your home.

Planned Obsolescence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827668)

So building more durable devices and toning down our habit of replacing them every 2 years would help?

Re:Planned Obsolescence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35828486)

So building more durable devices and toning down our habit of replacing them every 2 years would help?

Wow, aren't you a troll. That would completely destroy our Western Luxury Lifestyle!

Who gets the saving is important (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827674)

Forget about "total energy budgets" and such things. When companies say they are replacing hardware to save energy costs, they are talking about their energy costs. The manufacturers are welcome to cut their own energy usage and pocket the savings, but businesses don't care about that.

Sine it costs roughly £1 per year for every Watt of a 24*7*365 machine (and more if you have cooling costs, too) the cost of powering a box can easily exceed the purchase cost - even without playing accountancy games such as using depreciation to reduce tax liability. So if an estate of PCs or servers can be replaced by newer, more efficient hardware, the simple financial case is easy to make. That you can then also claim to be saving the planet is a nice afterthought - but that's all it is.

What's even better is if you can cite your new, energy efficient, datacentre in a country with cheap energy and cheaper staff. It's got nothing to do with saving the planet, even if that sounds nice in the annual report.

Wrong-headed (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827690)

Just tax energy use more and energy use goes down. And don't forget to close the corporate loopholes.

Re:Wrong-headed (2)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827804)

Just tax energy use more and energy use goes down. And don't forget to close the corporate loopholes.

Much more important is to close the personal loopholes, to avoid situations like in California [wikipedia.org] , where "deregulation" meant keeping retail prices regulated at artificially low values.

Only problem is, the politicians who make those regulations are elected by the people who use that electricity. The simpler solution is doing exactly what they did: increase regulation and call it "deregulation", that way everyone is happy. Until they run out of electricity.

disposable goods (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35827726)

it seems to me that with all the disposable goods we consume that we are not being energy efficient anywhere in our lives

Build them so they last, and repairable (1)

robbak (775424) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827774)

One of the biggest issues is how often modern computers break down.

I see an awful lot of computers coming in to me that have failed due to broken connections on their motherboards. Mostly somewhere under the north- or southbridge chips, I think. Wherever the are, it is not repairable, at least, not without reflow stations and solder masks for every chip out there. Even then your return rate is going to be so high that you just couldn't do it. I don't know if it stands up to scrutiny, but I am blaming the silver-tin solders that have been forced upon us by - again - pseudo-green issues, and a general plumbiphobia. Vastly more expensive than tin-lead, and vastly less reliable - it is just too brittle, and too easy to make bad joints.

Return to tin-lead solders, equipment lasts longer, so there is less of the other toxic chemicals released in the manufacture and disposal of electronics. Net gain, and i would have less unrecyclable, 18-month-old motherboards in my dumpster.

Re:Build them so they last, and repairable (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828118)

It's not so much the move from tin-lead as it is the move to BGA technologies. BGA's have become very common and are a nightmare to solder. If they aren't done right you can have all kinds of thermal issues pop up later, after the boards are out in consumer's hands. The boards can be repaired but I'm not a real big fan of reflow.

Uh...does this really matter? (1)

FriendlyPrimate (461389) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827828)

I care about energy usage for one reason...battery life. A laptop consumes about the same amount of energy as a 60w light bulb. So does it really matter in the larger scheme of things? And I'd think that manufacturers are already trying to make their operations as energy efficient as possible, because it affects their bottom line.

The reason why I use compact florescent bulbs instead of conventional light bulbs is because if you replace EVERY SINGLE BULB in my entire house, the energy savings add up. But I've only got ONE laptop, so I really don't care if it's using 60w or 50w or 40w or whatever.

4340 Megajoules? (1)

cnaumann (466328) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827866)

At US$0.10 / kilowatt hour, that would be $120 worth of juice in a new laptop. That really can't be right, so it is obvious that they are not simply counting revolutions of a power meter.

So what does it mean? Did they use the same math to figure out how many megajoules it takes to deliver a kilowatt-hour of electricity. Do you count the manufacturing energy costs in making all the equipment (circuit breaker panel, circuit breaker, wire, insulation, wall box, outlet, etc.) that delivers the power from the meter to the wall plug? Do you count the megajoules required to mine the coal, manufacture a train, manufacture a power station, and as well as thermal losses at the power plant?

Laptops don't use a lot of power anyway, newer laptops don't use a lot less power than older laptops so I am not surprised by the results. The bottom line is that if you cannot show an economic advantage to upgrading (you can cover the cost of the upgrade based on the energy saved in a reasonable time) is it probably not worth upgrading for the sake of saving energy.

Re:4340 Megajoules? (3, Insightful)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828068)

I suspect they probably are looking at the total energy costs to, e.g. extract raw materials from the ground, transport them, refine them, transport them again, manufacture them into finished product (potentially with additional shipping as individual chips and components get shipped from suppliers to the final OEM), manufacture and testing at the final oem, then transport the laptop and packaging to the final customer.

If you look at that entire 'lifecycle', I would absolutely NOT be surprised to find that $120 of a $500 laptop is energy costs.

However, the rule of thumb you give is a very good one - if you won't pay for the costs of the upgrade in energy savings (or productivity increases for the same energy spent, which is basically energy savings), then you probably aren't saving enough energy to offset the energy costs of the piece of equipment.

Because, in a very real sense, if you are buying a competitively priced item (that is, doesn't have very high margins) cost is pretty representative of the energy that went into making something. That rule of thumb doesn't apply to luxury goods like Mac's, Sports Cars, etc. which have high margins, but does for anything with tight margins.

Green is things for their full economic life (1)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827904)

Its funny how the computer / high tech industry manges to remain seen by general public as green. When we have always known its anything but. Old style smoke stack industry cranking out sheets of steel and similar is probably far less ecologically harmful than any chip plant. The other big issue is water, semiconductor manufacturing uses LOTS of fresh water which is starting to become a scarce resource too. Finally the amount of energy used as pointed out in the article all the energy use probably amounts to a big release of green house gases (if your worried about that sort of thing) at some electrical generating plant someplace.

All these highbrid cars are another good example. Cash for clunkers probably did far far more harm to our planet than any good that came from taking otherwise serviceable cars off the road. When you consider the amount of energy and bi products of manufacturing new vehicles it would have almost certainly been better for the planet for us to keep driving the ones we already made. Yes we should replace the ones we do finally retire with more energy efficient models, but its a pretty rare case the new model is so much more energy efficient it makes up for premature disposal of the existing.

When it comes to this stuff we drive cars until its to costly to keep them on the road, we use computers as long as possible, that means not getting a new one every 24 months and trying to make software more efficient so we don't need so damn many. All those unneeded animations impose a COST, they are not free.

Now none of this creates many jobs though....

Car analogy? (1)

Anonyme Connard (218057) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827930)

I have always been told that the same stands for cars. And I guess it is also the case for every energy consuming device.

Redistribution (1)

ColoradoAuthor (682295) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827974)

For most purchase decisions, economics (to some degree) accounts for the amount of energy used in production. An exception is when some group tries to bias the market in favor of buying the "new, efficient" thing, even when it means that the "old, inefficient" things go to a landfill before their natural end of life.

An important, but often neglected, point to make is that energy used at the factory CAN come from more efficient, cleaner sources. Or at the very least, the energy-related pollution may be dumped a little farther from the neighborhoods you care about the most.

Now change manufacturing incentives (1)

GP (16519) | more than 3 years ago | (#35827994)

tldr: green manufacturing needs to be 10x cheaper than status quo to get businesses to change.

The consumer "green" movement didn't really ramp up until a combination of technological advances (for example, making CFLs not suck) and convenient market distortions (in the form of government incentives, tax credits, grants, etc.) combined to make it stupid to not "go green" with your consumer purchases. While some manufacturers have embraced the idea of environmentally-friendly manufacturing (for example, if you believe Subaru's marketing), there are not sufficient market distortions in place to make a business want to spend the capital necessary to retool manufacturing lines.

I think the fact that there is a lot of technology being manufactured in China is actually beneficial. China has the ability to force their industry to make certain changes, and they have recently started to adopt policies that are designed to make their industrial base more sustainable.

Re:Now change manufacturing incentives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35828168)

I think the fact that there is a lot of technology being manufactured in China is actually beneficial. China has the ability to force their industry to make certain changes, and they have recently started to adopt policies that are designed to make their industrial base more sustainable.

China is using 50+% of entire world production of coal. Basically ALL coal usage increase since 1990 (almost doubled) can be attributed to China. Any tiny reduction of coal usage elsewhere is quickly mopped up by india and other developing nations. World coal consumption is expected to more than double once more by 2050, irrespective of what "green" people want.

Not exactly news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35828152)

This is not news really. Embodied energy i.e. the energy used in manufacturing and distribution has long been estimated as ~80% of the lifecycle energy consumption for a range of devices such as PCs and cell phones.

The early work was done by Professor Eric Williams in his research, "Energy Intensity of Computer Manufacturing: Hybrid Assessment Combining Process and Economic Input-Output Methods.") The PC study was completed about seven years ago and used data a bit older than that. There have been changes in the manufacturing process, but this is balanced by increased energy requirements for having to use leadfree solder (the EU's Restrictions on Hazardous Substances [RoHS] requirement), and improved energy efficiency in the in-use phase through simple power and cost saving applications like PowerMinder.

Some large corporates are putting in place procurement criteria that relate to end to end lifecycle of their equipment from manufacturer to death and disposal - it will not be the most important factor but it is starting to appear in more and more RFPs.

The easy way forward here is to use agent-less tools that make sure your PC estate is powered down in the roughly 75% of the hours in a week that most office workers are not at work.

Welcome to the concept of "Enthalpy" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35828378)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enthalpy

Good Thing (1)

tthomas48 (180798) | more than 3 years ago | (#35828684)

This is actually a good thing. If the energy use is at a few central locations then it's easier to implement energy savings. If every computer made was an energy hog it would be much harder to modify every single one to make them more energy efficient.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?