AS MOST recipients of new smartphones, tablets and pads for Christmas can by now attest, the mobile devices demand a considerable amount of energy to keep working. Whatever else we're doing in 2013, figure on spending a lot of time charging.
In fact, keeping all our electronic necessities and accessories linked and functional demands a considerable chunk of the electric grid. One 2010 Australian study calculated the tools of search, chat and play consumed about 7.5 percent of the nation's electric output.
Another recent report from the Centre for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications and Bell Labs concludes that worldwide the information communications and technology industry produces more than 830 million tons a year of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. That amount is equal to that produced by the aviation industry and about 2 percent of all the total emissions.
The Pew Research Center released a report last month related to mobile technology that showed 85 percent of Americans have a cellphone, 45 percent have a smartphone and 25 percent have a tablet computer. An earlier study in 2012 showed that 58 percent of Americans have a desktop computer, 61 percent have a laptop and 18 percent own an e-book reader.
Pew noted that the number of cellphone users who access the Internet from their smartphones has doubled in the past three years to 55 percent.
The environmental group Greenpeace recently claimed energy use from data centers would triple by 2020 and complained that big information giants haven't taken the availability of green energy sources into account when planning where to locate their server farms.
Of course, electric power is costly, so telecom operators have a strong interest in making their operations more efficient and sustainable. Many are looking at using at least some solar, wind or hybrid energy sources to power their operations, particularly things like transmission towers. And device manufacturers continue to search for batteries and charging technologies that are more efficient.
A recent report from a consulting group called Pike Research in Colorado estimated that investment in energy-efficient telecom network gear will reach $194 billion a year by 2016, and could cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 32 percent from current levels.
Meanwhile, device users may want to consider turning them off once in a while, in the interest of the environment as well as sanity.