The 2020 data reveals that powering tech devices cost on average about $191 per U.S. household last year – a steal when you pause to reflect on what 2020 would have been like without home electronics and how many voids tech filled. America’s consumer tech product energy use last year was, not surprisingly, up 24% from 2017. Specifically, the study estimates 3.3 billion tech devices consumed approximately 176 TWh in 2020, equal to some 12% of the total residential sector and 4.5% of total US electricity consumption. The research found that the spike in energy usage appears to have been driven by a big jump in product use during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even at a product level, the average annual cost in electricity to operate consumer tech is a relative bargain: about $9 a year for a laptop computer, about $24 a year for a TV, and about $3 a year for a smart speaker.
Prior to 2020, total energy used by consumer tech products had been declining, as seen in the 2013 and 2017 studies – demonstrating that these devices are becoming more and more energy efficient even as the number of devices increased. Industry efforts to make technology products more energy efficient, including initiatives targeting television set-top boxes and internet equipment, have saved consumers billions in energy costs and avoided millions in CO2 emissions.
The energy use study confirms widespread anecdotal evidence that Americans viewed TV as a pandemic salve. Daily TV usage was 5.8 hours in 2020, nearly 50% higher than in 2017. If not for the major boost in usage, annual energy consumption estimates likely would have remained relatively stable.
With non-essential travel out of the question during 2020, in-person dining and other mainstay amusements canceled, and the isolation of stay-at-home orders, tech companies did what tech does best – innovate. Empowered with additional tech products and services, businesses and organizations offered virtual tours and travel experiences to afford homebound Americans a bit of escapism. Businesses deployed contactless payment systems, hospitals used telehealth systems to sustain primary care, school districts pivoted to online learning, and so on.
Innovation like this is a hallmark of the consumer tech industry. It is because the industry is marked by such a fluid marketplace and enjoys rapid consumer product adoption that CTA routinely re-examines energy usage to inform and lead initiatives related to energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. Indeed, the 2020 usage study covered products not even around or prevalent for previous iterations – digital media streaming devices, smart home security cameras, robot vacuums, virtual reality headsets, and smart speakers – making a direct, apples-to-apples comparison to earlier usage studies challenging.
Also, let us not forget that the use of consumer tech can help us save energy and reduce carbon emissions in other areas of life – home energy management and teleworking, for example. As the country continues to dig out of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the many related work and lifestyle adaptations will likely stick with us. Many people have discovered and enjoyed new ways to receive goods and services, entertain themselves, access medical care, and stay in touch with their communities, family and friends. Time will tell what reverts and what stays in place, but what is certain is that the consumer tech industry will continue to innovate, empowering us to live and adapt to whatever lies ahead.