Power: Greater Effienciencies vs. Greater Demand

Speakers at yesterday’s CIRCA ’07 conference in Saratoga Springs talked about the power dynamic, specifically that each new generation of microprocessor consumes far less power, but that total demand will continue to increase as computing functionality extends into ever more areas of life.

This reminded me of the One Laptop per Child piece that aired Sunday on 60 Minutes. I’ve heard a lot about the program, but wrongly assumed that a $100 laptop (currently $150 w/ $100 the target unit price when they hit their desired scale) would be a pretty basic affair. Actually, to meet the demands of kids in developing country, it has to be a pretty sophisticated little machine. Among other things, its CPU uses about 1/10 the power of a typical laptop. That’s impressive. But that’s still a huge increase in absolute power usage, given that these are all new users. These kids aren’t swapping power-sucking Dell’s for the OLPC machine. But…the likelihood that they’ll be powered by the fossil-fuel-burning grid is pretty slim, since functioning outlets can be few and far between in the developing world. So it’s designed to be human-powered via crank or pulley.

And that put me in mind of a piece I read earlier that day in the Sunday Times Magazine’s green-design issue that looks at the eco-friendly lifestyle of Ed Begley Jr. The most interesting part:

Exercise routine: Every stationary bike in America is plugged into the wall the wrong way. They are using power! Mine does the reverse. I generate enough power from 15 minutes of biking to run my computer all day.

Imagine the reductions in both power consumption and ill-health if we all hooked our computers up to exercise bikes?


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