Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Smart Timers

There's a lot of really cool things that MicroControllers can do. The other day, Cat wanted to unplug my computer while we made dinner to avoid consuming the energy lost in keeping the transforming circuitry in the AC/DC converter powered up. While this is a laudable goal, the energy consumed by a dormant charger is typically very low--on the scale of 400ish mW, and frankly, it would kind of be a pain in the ass. However, the IEA's recent policy guide, "Energy Efficiency Policy Recommendations"(PDF) states that, depending on the member country, anywhere from 2 to 11% of residential electricity consumption is consumed by appliance "standby modes." In America, land of wide, open plains of plasma screen, this means television standby modes. And America is almost certainly toward, if not at, the 11% figure.

So why can't television manufacturers make more efficient TVs? The standby mode exists so that when a TV is turned on, it turns on right away--without keeping power across it, and literally keeping the screen warm--the TV would take anywhere from 5 to 15 seconds to turn on. Television manufacturers know that people buy TVs in stores, based on first impressions, thus a needlessly wasteful amount of power is consumed for convenience.

What would be really interesting, is if someone included a short timer script on the IC. If televisions kept track of when you watched them, it could know when to warm up, based on the end-user's trends. Given that the circuitry is almost already all there, this would require an infinitesimal added cost with a small R&D budget. Timing programs could be tuned to more conservative or more liberal energy use by the end user, and also used to advertise the 'greenness' of the product.

But television manufacturers won't willingly include such circuitry, as very few people would actually use it--just like they won't willingly meet the IEA's 1watt standard for appliance standby--which is why this opens up a great opportunity for someone to develop a 'smart green' power strip. This could do the same thing--track when users use appliances plugged into each port, and then turn them on or off automagically based on when they most frequently use them.

Pipe dreams, but like i say, microcontrollers can do some cool shit.

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