If innovation does not save energy, it’s still a prototype
I read an interesting article by Eric Ravenscraft on wireless charging. The basic gist of the article is that wireless charging right now uses about 47% more energy than charging your phone with a cable.
This is especially important to recognize now that we are moving towards a world where we’re letting go of the combustion engine and going towards an electrical world also in transportation.
The idea of everything being wireless sounds like a utopia. Think about it: no need to plug anything in! Everything would just work! However, Ravenscraft points out an important point: energy efficiency is not optional anymore. We are constantly using more and more energy and as such we should prioritize energy consumption as one of our top things while pushing something out into the public.
Sure, it’s okay if a new innovation spends more energy in the development phase but anything that is not more energy-efficient than the previous version should not be released. This is because of the Jevons Paradox.
According to the paradox when you need fewer resources to do something the market starts to deplete more of them as the popularity of the new innovation grows.
Even if you halve the energy consumption of an innovation the total consumption soon rises back up. This is because of the increased public demand for the solution. The more users, the more energy is used even if every single user uses less. If it’s cheaper to drive a car that is charged instead of refueled then a lot more people start purchasing these new automobiles, even those people who did not have one before.
Regarding wireless charging, we’re not saving any energy but instead using more of it. All because it is easier to use wireless automatic charging than to plug in a wire.
The energy consumption for non-essential things is already huge. For instance, bitcoin mining uses annually about the same amount of energy as Switzerland. And I know, I know. It’s really nice to have new innovations. We just need to get them out of prototype mode before we push it out to billions of people.
So let’s treat energy-spending innovations as prototypes if they are not sustainable to use in real life.
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