Is Earth Day Worth It?
The good, bad, and the ugly in the year of being green(er).
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April 22, 2010 by Steven Castle

It’s Earth Day, so I suppose I should to be writing something about being green and going green tech, which I do regularly anyway.

I like the concept of Earth Day. But I liked it better when it meant cleaning debris out of streams and raising awareness that we were trashing our planet with pollution.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to go all Al Gore on you. I just wonder if Earth Day is still worth it. I mean, if there’s going to be this whole green movement, why assign just one day to it? Isn’t that trivializing the whole thing?

OK, everyone write your green stories for Earth Day and hold your green Earth Day events. There, that’s done. Now, where were we?

Oh yes, 3DTV. What manufacturer has what announcement about how 3DTV will change our world for the better today? Nothing against 3DTV. At one time a few years ago, I thought the concept was really cool. I still think it’s somewhat cool. I think it can be a nice niche product for gamers and movie buffs. But like many who report on electronics, I don’t see it as the be-all/end-all in consumer electronics, no matter how much the manufacturers hype it.

And yes, I’m jealous of 3DTV. Wicked jealous, as we say in New England. I’m jealous of all the attention it’s getting. But I’m even more jealous of all the money it’s getting. If the consumer electronics industry paid half the time and money to innovating in energy efficiency as it does to 3DTV, we’d have all sorts of energy-saving systems and gadgets, and the consumer electronics industry would be touting how it’s saving the world, woo-woo-ca-choo!

And there are a lot more energy-efficient and greener products coming out. We have made some progress in the high-tech world of being green—or at least a little bit greener. A lot still depends on that thing called the smart grid—and well, that’s had its bumps as its earliest features are being rolled out.

Following is a good, bad and ugly list I’ve compiled on the year in being green(er). And in the spirit of being fair, environmentalists and non-environmentalists alike find themselves in bad and ugly categories.

What does it all mean: Lots more work in green and green tech to be done. Looks like I’ll be writing about this stuff for years.

The Good

More energy monitoring systems like Powerhouse Dynamic’s eMonitor and Control4’s EMS 100 are rolling out. Though some, like Google’s PowerMeter and Control4’s monitor will be made available only through utilities—at least initially.

The Bad

We need a lot more in energy monitoring systems. And although studies show that people with immediate feedback on their energy consumption save 5 percent to 15 percent, many don’t even know what an energy monitor is. 

The Good

The smart grid is coming! The smart grid is coming!

The Not-so-Good

So must hundreds of technical standards that need to be developed in order to have a smart grid. And that takes time.

The Good

Some limited smart grid services and two-way smart meters are rolling out. Millions more smart meters are sure to follow.

The Ugly

Utilities rolling out two-way smart meters in California and Texas have been accused of gouging consumers for higher-cost time-of-use pricing.

The Good

BAN (Basel Action Network) recently announced e-Stewards certifications for electronics recyclers that don’t ship old electronics overseas, where their improper disassembly is harmful to people’s health an to the environment.

The Potentially Extremely Bad

Guess what? Target stores have an Earth Day 2010 recycling program, but whoops, no one knows where the used electronics are going, according to BAN.

The Good or Bad

This goes in the “depending on how you look at it” category: The California Energy Commission passed a sales restriction on TVs that don’t meet certain energy-efficiency levels. See the story. Enviros love it, the electronics industry loathes it. My take: By the time the sales restrictions take effect in 2011, it will be moot, because almost all TVs will make the cut. This caused nothing but a lot of wasted breath and wealthier lawyers—on both sides.

The Ugly

In fighting the restrictions kicking and screaming and throwing all sorts of dubious arguments against the wall—none of which stuck—the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) made the CE industry as a whole look like obfuscators, foot-draggers and the worst sort of greenwashers. Way to go, guys.

The Even Uglier

Stolen emails show that climate change researchers at University of East Anglia in England manipulated data to exaggerate claims of climate change. That sort of backfired. Way to discredit the entire green movement, fellas.

The Good

Yipee! A vast number of TVs have met the Energy Star 3.0 specification, which for the first time includes on-mode energy consumption. Yep, the consumer electronics industry really has its green game on now!

The Bad

Only about 25 percent of products are supposed to meet the Energy Star spec. That means the specification, which took input from manufacturers, was far too lenient. New, much stricter specs are set to go into effect in May 2010 and May 2012.

The Ugly
The General Accounting Office (GAO) of Congress got several fake products and companies certified by Energy Star. Though fortunately, none were TVs.

The Good

Venture capitalists are looking at making investments in energy efficiency companies, after spending billions on risky solar and wind ventures the last few years. What changed their minds? They see energy efficiency as the low-hanging fruit.

The Not-so-Good

VCs are looking almost exclusively to the commercial and industrial sectors for the energy-efficient market.

And the That’s Not so Bad

That means the residential market for energy efficiency will remain fragmented longer, and that’s better for small companies that can innovate.

 

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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