How computer and energy technology don’t relate

Bill Gates says the rapid advance of computers created unreasonable expectations for the advancement of energy technology. The argument makes sense. And while desktop computers did advance very quickly, I think people have a misconception of even how quickly computers developed–which makes it worse, of course. Some people seem to believe the computer was invented by IBM and Microsoft in 1981. Far be it from Gates to lead people to believe otherwise, but the direct ancestors of modern desktop computing date to the early 1970s, and the groundwork for even that dates to the 1940s, at the very latest.

So developing new energy technology isn’t as easy as, say, ramping up CPUs to 3 GHz was, or putting four cores in a CPU package and making it smaller than an older 1-core CPU. We have to wait for ideas to pan out.

In the meantime, about all we can do is reduce the amount of energy we use, which in turn will cut demand or at least slow the rate at which demand grows, which, if the market works correctly, will slow the rate at which prices rise.

This week Philips won the L Prize, delivering an LED bulb that outputs 910 lumens of energy while consuming 9.7 watts, for a savings of 50 watts over the incandescent bulb it’s capable of replacing. The prize-winning bulb isn’t on store shelves yet but it won’t come cheap: It’s expected to retail for $50. Philips estimates the bulb will save $150 over the course of its usable life, and of course the price will come down with time.

I’m pretty sure I used the last CFL bulb lurking in my closet this month, so any future bulbs I buy will be LEDs of one kind or another. Rather than buy LED bulbs and let them sit in the closet until I need them, which could be months or years from now, I plan to just temporarily steal a bulb from a bathroom fixture if one burns out, then buy an appropriate LED bulb to replace it.

I’m also happy, so far, with the occupancy sensor light switches I’ve installed. The savings they provide varies of course, depending on the lights you control with them and your habits regarding turning lights off when you leave the room.

And in the car, the way you maintain and drive can dramatically affect your fuel consumption.

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