This is a draft of article written for the FT – an edited edition was published in June 2011 – Eco Technologies at home – Electric Green.
Finding eco-technologies that have really good eco-credentials is harder than you might think. For example, I’m a bit cynical about bamboo mice for your computer and even wind up radios. Changing your mouse is really not going to make the world a better place, particularly if it means chucking away your old one. And having tried a number of wind-up radios, I found I couldn’t get good reception, so I’ve given up using them.
If eco-technologies are going to help us green our lifestyles they’ve got to work and they’ve got to help us reduce our impact. There are some futuristic technologies, such as Sony’s smart TV and Samsung’s Ecobubble washing machine, coming to market right now that may do just that.
Sony’s Bravia TV actually has both movement and light detectors, so the screen turns off when you leave the room or fall asleep and the display dims if the room is dark. I often drift off when watching the box, so I’m not sure whether being spotted doing this by the machine would be a boon or a bane. The Ecobubble claims to wash better at low temperatures – the ‘ecobubbles’ speeding up the absorption of detergents into clothes – apparently 40 times faster than a conventional washing machine. Not only is this more efficient but it means no soap residue at the end of the wash.
Most of the technologies I looked at are trying to save energy in one form or another. Actually, I’m rather intrigued by the different approaches they take. Tracking how much energy you use doesn’t directly save anything at all, but it’s a pretty good place to start. The energy monitor I bought helped me identify that I had a very inefficient old chest freezer, costing about £100 a year to run. Getting rid of it saved me the cost of my monitor. Today you can buy one for less than £50 – or even get the Envi monitor for free if you sign up to Ecotricity – so you could save even more.
At the other end of the spectrum is an energy-saving device that you can just ‘fit and forget’. The low voltage optimiser, made by V-Phase, reduces the voltage of electricity coming into your home, to match what your appliances actually need. Apparently, it’s particularly effective for refrigeration and results in an average saving of about 10% of your electricity bill. The £299 cost might put some people off, but the system and savings have been independently verified.
I consider myself to be reasonably ‘techy’ – I love trying out new things. But I have to admit that I’m not so great at reading instructions – apparently this is a female trait! And it proved to be a problem when I got an Eco Kettle. I couldn’t immediately see how it worked. Now, I’ve got the hang of filling up one section and pressing the knob to transfer the water to the other – it’s really quite simple and I’ve warmed to it! The benefit is that you save energy by not boiling more water than you need.
Another eco-tech innovation that takes a while to master is the Dyson DC24 vacuum cleaner – I had to press the pedal several times before I got the knack. The space-age design is not only bag-less but super energy-efficient too. With a 650 watt motor, it uses less than half the electricity of the average vacuum cleaner.
Knowing about my work as an environmental consultant and author, people often come to my house with expectations about its green credentials. What that generally means is that they think I’ll have solar panels on my roof or a wind turbine in the garden. I don’t have either.
But, careful observers will find that I do have a very small solar panel lurking near my back door. It powers the movement sensitive LED light. And it’s replaced a standard outside light, which was at least 200 watts, so I’m rather keen on it.
Whilst eco-technologies can help you live more ‘eco-friendly’ lifestyles, I don’t believe they’re a substitute for changing our behaviour. We should be careful not to buy more stuff we don’t need and kid ourselves that we’re saving the planet by doing so.
Prices and links correct at time of publication, but may now be out of date…
- ECO KETTLE £47.99
- DYSON DC24 VACUUM CLEANER £299.99
- SONY BRAVIA EX713 TV £1000 for 46” or £600 for 32”
- SAMSUNG ECOBUBBLE WASHING MACHINE – not yet launched so price not available.
- SOLAR MATE SECURITY LIGHT – SOLAR TECHNOLOGY LTD £32.99
Movement sensitive solar-powered LED light. www.solartechnology.co.uk
- ENVI ELECTRICITY MONITOR £39.95
- V-PHASE VOLTAGE OPTIMISER £299 (including fitting)
- NEXXUS UNIVERSAL PHONE CHARGER FROM C-MOBILE £4.86
Endorsed by 17 manufacturers including Nokia, Blackberry, LG and Samsung.
- ECO SHOWERDROP £12.95
Shower meter, measuring how much water you’re using.
www.ecokettle.com/showerdrop (no longer valid)