Why are there so many lights on when the lights are off?

          I recently conducted an inventory in my house . . . in the dark. Well, almost dark. Just before going to sleep I went from room to room counting the number of lights that were on. Nightlights, digital clocks, power indicators on electronics, and even an indicator on our emergency standby plug-in flashlight.

         Our microwave oven, toaster oven and gas range each showed me the time . . . within a three-foot span! In all, there were more than 50 lights on in the house. It’s nuts!

          Almost one third of all electricity use in California homes is attributable to electronic devices, especially home entertainment equipment and computers. The rest goes to refrigerators, heaters, air conditioners, lighting, stoves, laundry appliances, pools and the like.

          All this electricity use contributes to higher fuel prices, air pollution, the outflow of cash to foreign nations and dependence on not-so-nice countries for fuel. To the rescue (I’m being optimistic here) comes the California Energy Commission. Never heard of it? Neither have most Californians.

          As appliances become more energy efficient, in step all the gadgets, gizmos and whatnots to take up the slack. And heading them off at the pass, the commission is about to ask the electronics industry to think efficiently. So what’s the problem? Well, it has a name: the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). Does it have clout? Let me answer listing some of its members: Apple, HP, Intel; you get the idea. And the CEA is behind a bill introduced by California Assemblymember Charles Calderon that would curtail the commission’s authority.

Video gaming makes demands on power supply
Sony PlayStation 3 equipment bundle

          On the other side of the argument is PG&E, Northern California’s mega-utility, which likes the idea of energy efficiency. The CEA, however, makes the case that convergence, where multiple functions are merged into one device as with smart phones, saves on electricity.  By allowing users to avoid employing several different devices to run a variety of functions, they are more efficient than, say, using a cell phone, a computer, and a digital camera, each of which has to be charged or plugged in.

          The state claims that updated efficiency standards would save state residents $7 billion per year, reducing the need for additional power plants and lowering water use by 70 billion gallons. When it comes to water, California is very insecure; so insecure, in fact that if it were a person, no team of psychiatrists could help.

          California is famous (infamous?) for its leadership in environmental regulation. If the state requires greater efficiencies for a variety of gadgets, it’s likely that either manufacturers will sell those more-efficient items nationwide for the sake of financial efficiency, or that other states will adopt similar requirements. “These standards will ensure that new products sold in California contain the latest and smartest technology so that our products sip rather than gulp energy,” said Noah Horowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council, quoted in the San Jose Mercury News.

          Because the California Energy Commission has not yet defined what a computer is (you read that right), it is not clear whether so-called tablet devices will be included in the new requirements. But several popular implements will be facing efficiency upgrades, including gaming devices like Wii, PlayStation and Xbox, as well as monitors and subscription TV service set-top boxes.

          So what does this mean for you? It’s time for all of us to do our part. Where it’s practical, can’t we live with one fewer nightlight, unplugged cell phone rechargers, and audio systems plugged into power strips that we turn off when not in use? And if you live in a house, how many plugged-in lights do you have shining outside overnight? In an age when so many folks are worried about the national debt we’ll be leaving for our progeny, maybe we should all be thinking about how much of a messed-up environment they’ll be living in.

          Go California Energy Commission!