Gadget addiction heralding new 'ICE age'

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Gadget addiction heralding new 'ICE age'

Energy Saving Trust worried by energy used by consumer electronics.

Efforts to cut domestic energy consumption and fight climate change are being undermined by a proliferation of electricity-hungry consumer electronics devices, the Energy Saving Trust warned. 

Marking the dawn of a new 'Information, Communication, Entertainment (ICE) Age', the Energy Saving Trust's Ampere Strikes Back report (PDF) identifies the energy burden of this new set of products. 

The report predicts that 'ICE age' technology will account for 45 per cent of the electricity used in UK households by 2020, the equivalent of 14 power stations, just to power our TVs, home IT and other electronics.

"Products are being used in ways that were undreamed of just a few years ago, with trends such as listening to the radio through TV and PC on the increase," said Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust.

"It is highly unlikely that consumers realise that this uses far more energy than conventional means, or that digital radios use almost as much energy when considered switched off at the unit as they do while switched on, while a new flat panel TV can use up to three times more electricity than a 'traditional' TV."

The growing popularity of technology such as DAB radios, set-top boxes, laptops and LCD/plasma TVs means that the annual UK spend on consumer electronics has soared to over £12bn, making UK consumers the biggest spenders in Europe.

While the average UK household spends £500 a year on these products, one in 10 UK householders spends between £1,000 and £10,000 a year.

If this trend continues, products contained in the average home could be racking up running costs of £4.9bn a year by 2020.

The study warns of the "unwitting wastage of these ICE Age offenders" who leave devices on or on standby when not in use.

"UK consumers will be surprised to hear just what their home entertainment equipment gets up to," explained Sellwood.

"The Ampere Strikes Back report holds up a mirror to all of us and shows just how easy it is to lose track of what is sucking up energy in our homes and costing us and the environment dear."

Despite new recycling regulations coming into effect this month, the purchase of new kit does not mean that consumers are getting rid of their old equipment.

One fifth of UK householders are thrifty hoarders, relegating old equipment to a second division in other rooms in the house and adding to the overall energy burden, the report noted.

Added to this, new entertainment hubs are springing up around the house. Around 96 per cent of lounges, 76 per cent of bedrooms and 42 per cent of kitchens are being used as hotspots for home entertainment equipment.

The report reveals that this proliferation of high-tech kit dotted around UK homes is causing consumers to forget what they've left on and where.

While owners' backs are turned, gadgets like televisions, computers, set-top boxes and video recorders are sucking up more electricity than the UK's street lighting uses in three years.

"Think about how you are using appliances and turn equipment off when not needed. Rein in the impulse to hoard equipment that has already been replaced," advised Sellwood.

While the report encourages consumers to do their bit, it also calls on retailers and manufacturers to do more to help users achieve this aim.

This is borne out by the research which reveals that nine out of 10 consumers want to see A-G energy efficiency ratings on consumer electronic goods to help them improve their buying decisions.

And eight out of 10 would like manufacturers to develop 'intelligent' energy saving items which power down after half an hour.

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