Mobile phone chargers: energy vampires

A group of mobile phone makers is out to raise awareness that charging devices consume energy when left idle but plugged into an outlet.

Around two-thirds of the energy used by mobile devices is wasted in this way. "It may seem like it's a very small thing when you think of an individual charger, but given the number of chargers that are out there it has the potential of large energy savings," said Susan Smith, communications manager at Nokia.

To raise awareness LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung Electronics, and Sony Ericsson have developed a new ratings system to show consumers how much energy chargers use in standby mode. Five stars designate the most efficient chargers, using 0.03 watt or less. Chargers that consume more than 0.5 watt get no stars.

The ratings are based on the European Commission's energy standards for chargers and the internationally recognized Energy Star standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. The vendors will display the ratings on their Web sites.

The program is mostly about making people aware that there is an issue, according to Gartner senior research analyst Annette Zimmermann. She doesn't expect consumers to go out and buy a new, more energy-efficient charger.

"The first thing is to make people aware that there are these issues around chargers, and that there are certain ones that are more energy efficient," said Smith.

But she also expects consumers will make energy use one of many factors when they pick up a new phone in the future.

There is also a potential to reduce electronic waste related to chargers; by giving users the option of not purchasing a charger with every new phone, something NTT DoCoMo has already implemented.

"It is something we are researching and looking into, but haven't made any decisions yet," said Smith.

Going forward we will see more announcements related to more environmentally friendly mobile phones, according to Zimmermann.

"We will see more mobile phones that use, for example, recycled materials and bio-plastics," she said.

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