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Tech Culture: Green-powered gadgets

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Tech Culture: Green-powered gadgets

32:35 /

Some gadgets billed as "green" can power electronics off the grid. Others help you reduce energy use at home, work, or on your daily commute. CNET editors Elsa Wenzel and Wayne Cunningham talk about some of the latest tools on the market.

[ Music ] ^M00:00:07 >> Hello. I'm Wayne Cunningham, Editor, with CNET, and this is Elsa Wenzel, also our green expert, Editor, at CNET. We're here to talk today about green gadgets, green technology, how to-- how to lessen your impact on the earth; and if you want to ask questions of us, we've got a live feed going. Just-- you can enter in questions in the box on your browser and you can also chat with other people that are listening in. And so go ahead and ask us questions. We've got a few to start off with here. Skillcraft actually asked us a interesting question. We got online here. What does green mean anyway? Isn't it all just marketing? What do you think, Elsa? >>Well, a lot of people do have green fatigue. They're seeing green labels on everything from their groceries to their printers and a lot of the labels on the products aren't really clear about what they mean and sometimes there are third party specifications to make specific-- specific requirements to actually have a label like that but people aren't often clear about what the labels mean and it's not clear whether the labels are coming from a third party or just from the manufacturer itself so there is a lot of green marketing going on; but there are a lot of solid moves by electronics makers to make their appliances more eco-friendly, to make gadgets less wasteful and less toxic, to have better designs from the get go so that when recycling happens, recycling can be done more easily and... >>Well, if I'm shopping in say like BestBuy or something like that, is there any particular label I should look for, any associations [inaudible]? >>Well, you will see for instance on some Canon printers they have a label called Generation Green and that's their own label but it does indicate they have less wasteful packaging than they had in the past and you'll see other labels creeping into online website-- online merchants, particulary epeek is one. Epeek.net is a website where you can go to find information about computers that are more energy efficient than others. So, in stores you might not see a lot of third party labels at this point, but you will see a lot more of that stuff online. We actually did a guide to green labels, back in the spring I believe, on news.com, a photo gallery showing a lot of the major labels. Of course, the Energy Star label in stores has been around for a long time. >>That's national, isn't it? >>Right. It's backed by the Department of Energy and that indicates that, for instance, a computer will have energy saving settings or a printer, as well, will sip power rather than gulp power from an outlet. But there is some criticism by some environmental watchdog groups that the standards aren't as stringent as they could be so you're seeing a lot of change in the industry overall where people are more aware of the cost of energy, the costs ecologically and the cost to your pocketbook so, while there's a lot of green marketing out there, you are seeing like a big shift where consumers and companies are more interested in saving money and also their carbon footprint. >>Right. I guess the packaging is a big part of that, too, because we see when you get a box with a computer in it or a printer or something like that, the big pieces of Styrofoam. All that-- is that going away, the Styrofoam? Are they changing that to something more eco-friendly? >>Some companies have moved to kind of this plastic air filled packs instead of Styrofoam, but that's still plastic. Making plastic involves lots of toxic chemicals and it can't be fully recycled. Usually plastic can be downcycled so when you recycle it, it's converted to less valuable material; and then the issue of plastic pollution is enormous, especially in the ocean, so you are seeing them more, recycled plastic packaging. Even big names like Microsoft are using more recycled plastic packaging for peripherals including mice and stuff like that. A lot of smaller computer-- companies, excuse me, are innovating with some really cool packaging designs. You'll see, for instance, this fuel cell charger can power your cell phone and it comes in a recyclable cardboard package, but part of itself is also recyclable. The plastic, and then the chemical within it, can be used at the end of its life. You just pop this back in the box and then you can mail it back to the maker. But that's just one small example. >>And so that-- that's something you can recharge your cell phone or MP3 player or something, not by plugging it in. You just have a portable source with you? >>Right. You could throw this into your glove compartment in your car and when you're on a long road trip and your phone is out of juice, you just shake this. It causes a chemical reaction inside and then you have enough power in this fuel cell pack to probably power a phone maybe five or six times, so the initial thing is $40 and it's $20 for a replacement so it's not the most affordable off the grid power option out there but... >>But-- I've often heard that. That's interesting. >>Yeah. So, you're seeing a lot of innovations in packaging but also in power supplies whether it's off the grid some rechargers fuel cells, hand cranks, and even wind powered little portable chargers. There are all these neat little things that might, some day, be integrated into the products you're already buying rather than use one off kind of novelty things that... >> But, of course, if you can find an AC outlet, that's a pretty cheap way to-- this is just kind of a perk you're on the go. >>Right. And if you're concerned about your carbon footprint and your energy use at home or around the office, of course that's less of an issue as utility companies have more renewable energy sources so you're not, you know, polluting with coal fired power plants every time you plug in your appliances. But... >>Oh yeah. >>That's down the road. Of course. >>Yeah. Let's see what other questions do we have here. I've got a question about a--Skillcraft wants to know when will there be a solar-powered iPhone? Solar-powered Prius. >>Yes. >>What's the future of solar-powered? Is that actually going to be a-- something that will take off in the future? I mean, can solar-- panels tend to be fairly trickle, sort of, energy sources. I mean they're not big kilo-- big kilowatt hours. They're kind of trickle energy, right? >>Right. Well, as you know, I believe the Prius is coming out with in-- is it 2010 there is going to be an option with solar panels to partly power the air conditioning... >>Yes. >>Like that? >>Yeah, the new version of the-- this could be in the concept stages. You know, we'll see what they have in the auto show coming up in late November. >>Okay. >> It will be interesting to see-- ya. And in places where Prius's get a lot of use, like in LA, that could actually, ya, power some of the subsystems. >>Um hum. Um hum. >>But it won't charge up the main battery any significant degree. >>Right. And the same with the potential solar iPhone. There were rumors around May because some Apple engineers had filed a patent for something that would have integrated solar panels within the iPhone; but it's questionable about when and if that's really going to happen so it is questionable whether solar panels are the best way to power portable appliances or even appliances at home because, I don't know, if you-- it is more efficient to use an outlet that you already have plugged in and... >>Sure. Like I was showing you earlier about my solar-powered watch. This is a watch by Citizen. It's got their Eco-Drive technology. It's actually a solar paneled watch dial here and solar panels in the watch dial and so-- and it's got a battery that holds like a hundred and eighty days worth of charge and, you know, you don't have to replace the batteries and it's portable and you don't plug in a watch too, so... >>Yeah. >>You know, the solar panels actually work pretty well in it and it's a low power source, obviously. The watch doesn't take too much-- doesn't require too much engery, so... >>Um hum. >>You know, no batteries, you know, replacing batteries anyway. It's got some built in so it should last pretty much forever. >>I mean that seems like a great use for a solar panel or like a solar-powered bike light I'm about to test. I'm really excited about that. It has batteries, of course, that can store the energy so you're not actually using a light during the day. Well, the light is hitting the solar panel. But, yeah, a lot of these small one off uses, especially for camping or if use in an emergency, totally make sense for solar, or even for wind, if you make it efficient enough. >>Right. That seems to be a-- show us something that you've showed us is a little bigger jolt of energy, maybe. >>Um hum. Yeah, there's one model, I think Xtreme 24/7, that is a power pack-- it can power an iPhone, but our colleague, Martin LaMonica [assumed spelling] in News, looked at this product, I believe in September or August, so you can look for a blog post about that. >>Um hum. >>And you also have little hand crank devices that we've reviewed in the past about two years ago, and they didn't get really high marks from our reviewers because of these kind of inefficient like low power. They're just boosting your phone when it's running low on juice. >>Right. >>But you're seeing other cool innovations, like someone in Sweden is working on a yoyo device that could power an iPhone. >>Power it up while you're having fun. [inaudible] >>And I think part of his reason for thinking about it was that, you know, with the lack of light in Sweden, why have a solar panel. Just play with a yoyo instead of using a hand crank. >>There are certain regions where solar is not gonna be that effective. >>Right. >>We've got another question here. This looks interesting. From Fatalmox [assumed spelling]. How much electricity does the average desktop consume? Does the power supply-- does the--how-- how important is the power supply wattage? I can actually speak to that. I was building a new PC-- home PC recently and it'd been a couple of years since I upgraded my machine and the power supplies are just getting ridiculously big. A thousand watt power supply is actually not unreasonable whereas ten years ago, you're looking at maybe 200 watt would be pretty robust. I handle a lot of drives and your chip, but I guess a lot of the power drain is going to the, like, dual core CPUs... >>Um hum. >>And because those are going to draw twice the power than a single core CPU. >>You can blame all the gamers for that. >>That is-- yeah, that is [inaudible]. Ya, the gaming hardware just adds so much and that-- I was building a machine that was going to be gaming capable and I think I went with like an 800 watt power supply which I kind of felt bad about. >>Yeah. >>Especially when I read about people downsizing and using less energy in their PCs and here I am, putting this big bulky power supply, so you hate me now, right? >>No, I mean, we've gotta use power. I mean, there are a lot of benefits to electronics, too. If we could just make them more efficient, just makes sense. I mean, a lot of people are getting moralistic about it but doesn't have to be, you know, good or evil versus-- the versus evil thing. Just makes sense to make more efficient products. I mean there's a cool product. I have a nice solar powered backpack here that is Kill A Watt's energy monitor, electricity monitor. They now have a power strip, too, I'm about to check out and you can plug in your computer to this thing. It'll tell you what you're drawing and you can go round the house and be really obsessive about this and just plug everything in and, you know, all kinds of new power strips, too, that will not only show you how much you're using but will have sensors that automatically shut off certain outlets when you're away or I think Belkin has-- there's a surge protector that has a little remote control switch so you don't have to go round the house and manually unplug everything or flip the switch down on the ground because you waste, according to some studies, you waste about 10 per cent of your electricity bill on gadgets and appliances that are left plugged in. You think they're off, but they're still drawing power. >>Right. Parasitic energy. Energy vampires. >>Right. Right. >>Yeah. It's interesting. Ideas like monitoring your power usage is-- that can really make a difference, I find. At least driving cars around, I was driving a Honda Fit Sport recently and it had an instant miles per gallon gage on it so you could see exactly what your current miles per gallon was, and so I spent an entire day driving this car trying to see if I could keep that gage up above 40 miles per gallon for as long as possible. Obviously going up hills, [inaudible] drop down, coasting down hill and shoot up to 80 miles per gallon, and I actually managed to get that car to an average miles per gallon, 40 miles per gallon, for a pretty significant highway drive, and just knowing what-- how much energy I was using at any given moment was crucial for me being able to-- and it was kind of fun, too. I enjoyed driving the car. You can see that right away. I suppose if you're watching the electronics that are plugged into your home and looking at the meter, it might not be quite as fun. >>Right. >> [Inaudible] plugging other stuff, but. >> I think our electricity meters are still using technology that's, I mean, at least decades old. You're seeing more innovations happening there, too. I mean, if you don't know how much you're using, how are you going to change your habits; so, you know, more companies are working on better interface design to show you exactly how much power different appliances in your home are using. Those are for really high-end smart homes now, but you're seeing more websites that also show people tips and tricks and, you know, kind of estimate how much you're using and how you can cut your usage. >>Right. Yeah. Do a little search for efficient energy usage. >>Um hum. >>That kind of thing. Let's see. What other questions do we have here. Anything look interesting to you? >>Um. >>I don't see. >>Someone's asking, where's Brian? >>Yeah. >> Out sick. Sorry. >>Brian's out sick this week for the last couple of days. We seem to have something going around in the office. We're survivors here, so. >>We'll send him a Get Well email. Why is electronics packaging so hard to open? I don't know. But I've cut myself on some of those blister packs where, you know, you get this hermetically sealed stuff and you just want to scream because you can't open it. You get a scissors out and you're not cutting yourself with the scissors but with the plastic shards that are breaking out in... >>Oh, yeah. It's ridiculous. >>Yeah. I mean emergency rooms actually see people coming in all the time. I've talked to some doctors there. Like, yeah. We get like one a week, and oh. >>Yeah. It's crazy. [inaudible] try to get through it. I mean, even scissors and stuff like that. You need a torch or something. >> Um hum. Well, one thing, I mean, you can blame some stores like Cost-Co and Wal-Mart for that because they don't have display cases so what they need is packaging that they can ship in a box, ship around the world, and instantly display it as is in the packaging; so you have this pretty clear plastic bubble that shows you your little gadget and this, you know, cardboard backing to keep it upright or hanging off of a little hanger; but, I mean, that stuff is changing as well. There's a coalition. I forget the name of manufacturers. It's really working to make the packaging easier to open, but also making sure that there are more recycled ingredients in the packaging including recycled cardboard backing printed with soy inks or other vegetable inks, and then you have recycled plastic. It's not just enough to be recyclable because most municipalities don't collect the different plastics so recycled from the get go is something you can look out for. You see more labels showing you that. >>[inaudible] like seating, Honda, they're starting to use soy [inaudible] recyclable material in seating materials, too. >>Yeah. >>And in interior materials and that's just better than, you know [cough] building new materials out of, you know, petroleum products as it's been in the past. >>Um hum. And you're seeing some [inaudible] of stuff like bamboo for hard drive cases and, you know, those are kind of novelties; and another question is "Where do they get the bamboo? They're shipping it from China. Is it really eco-friendly?" So, I mean nothing is clear cut green. There's always a fuzzy gray area. So, we keep doing our research. >>Right. Okay. We're going to cut to video for a moment and take a little break here. Enjoy the video and we'll be back in just a moment. >> [Background music] Hi. I'm Elsa Wenzel, Senior Associate Editor, with CNET. What's so special about some AA batteries? Well, with USBCELL AA batteries, this little green cap hides a secret. Just pop it open and there's a little USB connector. You can plug these into a laptop or other USB enabled device to charge the batteries without having to pack a clunky recharger. A pair of these cost around $20 which is twice as much as other rechargeable nickel metal [inaudible] batteries or even ten times as much as some alkaline disposables. Unfortunately, USBCELL AAs don't store as much energy as other rechargeables, but we took about 600 pictures with a digital camera and more than five hours with a small video camera before needing to recharge. Another downside is that these take around five to seven hours to recharge, but that's fine if you plan on plugging them in before going to bed. You can also plug these into a regular AA charger, just not into a fast 15 minute recharger. Another quirk is that we couldn't plug in two USBCELL AAs next to each other on the phone USB port arrangements. Still, USBCELL's NiMH batteries come with some green benefits. USBCELL AAs could last several years or around 500 cycles and you can recycle them along with traditional batteries at stores such as Office Depot, Ikea, or Radio Shack. Check out the Call 2 Recycle website for drop off centers near you. The packaging of these batteries even includes recycled cardboard printed in vegetable inks. Overall, we really like the sturdy design and convenience of USBCELL AA batteries. They're really great if you're short on luggage space. Moixa Energy of London started selling USBCELL AAs in 2006, but they're getting easier to find at more online stores. Watch out for different types and sizes of these batteries coming soon from the company including AAAs and batteries for mobile phones. I'm Elsa Wenzel and these are USBCELL AA batteries. ^M00:19:52 [ Music ] ^M00:19:58 >> And we're back. Still talking about green technology. I'm Wayne Cunningham. This is Elsa Wenzel. Both editors at CNET. You've just-- somebody was talking about, in our chat room here, about a USB battery, a rechargeable battery. >>Yes. I think maybe we just play the video. >>That was a video game. We happen to have it right here. >> They're alive. They're alive. They're cool, I think. They're USBCELL AAs. They're not as powerful as some other rechargeables, I believe; but I think they're really sturdy. I couldn't break this little cord attached to it. You plug it into your USB port on a computer or other device to charge it instead of packing something like this kind of bulky recharger. So it's really a good thing, I think, if you're a laptop addict and you're always traveling with USB device and especially if you have a digital camera or other device that takes AA batteries. But the company's coming out with AAAs and they're also coming out with dedicated batteries for different mobile phone brands but, pardon me, that stuff isn't here yet but. >>Right. I mean this... >>[inaudible] >>This is only green in the sense that it-- it means you don't throw away batteries. >>Right. You're not disposing of the batteries. Also, they argue that you're more likely to actually pack these and use them on a trip. It's harder to remember to pack a charger. And so if you go on a trip, you forget your batteries, you're going to wind up buying disposable batteries and those have a lot of toxic heavy metals in them which battery makers have worked really hard to reduce, like the amount of mercury is minimal in a lot of alkaline batteries now but it used to be a bigger problem. >>Yeah. [inaudible] my four or three remotes at home. >>Yeah. >>There's a lot of battery usage going on. >>Yeah. >>I want to jump into one question here. Actually somebody quickly asked "How much are those USB batteries?" >>They're about $20 for two so they're probably, you know, in the right price range for a good holiday gift. >>Stocking stuffer. >>Right. >>I mean I guess that they're-- can be cost effective if you don't-- if you're not buying any new batteries ever again. >>Um hum. >>Do you have any sense of the lifetime of these things? >>They are supposed to last like 500 cycles which could be several years. It depends. They came out in 2006 so, who knows. We-- they haven't been around for enough time to test that... >>Right. >>Claim. But I think they're one of the neater little products out there that-- I'm kind of surprised that larger companies didn't think of this first. The same goes for, like, solar powered backpacks, for instance. I'm kind of surprised that [inaudible] or RAI or some other companies didn't come up with these integrated kind of outdoorsy products. Seems like there's a lot of innovation coming from the ground up while there's also innovation coming from the top down from big corporations who are trying to lessen their impact. So. >> [Inaudible] So, got a question here about, what are your favorite green gadgets? I mean you see a lot of devices coming. Is there anything that you use on a regular basis that makes sense to you that you just thought, you know, this is the best thing in the world? >>Yeah. I'm just starting to test a lot of these things. Like, I've seen them over the years but I haven't actually owned them, to be honest. One thing that I am interested in checking out, hopefully pretty soon, is the Voltaic generator bag which is going to be the first laptop charging bag. We have the Voltaic solar backpack here, but right now there's no bag that can charge a laptop even though a lot of the solar bags can fit a laptop inside. You also have a lot of-- a lot of other smaller companies that are making these things like Brunton has a solar rollup, I think is the name of this rollup kind of thin solar panel that is between $200.00 and maybe $600.00 and that can charge a laptop. But, for instance, if I don't spill everything out. This-- the-- like the new bag from Voltaic that'll charge a laptop will have panels similar to these. You can see right now it's even receiving light even though we're inside. >>You think these are three panels here. Do you have any sense of how energy it can take in? >>I think this whole thing [inaudible], is it four watts, I think; and then the laptop charging bag will be, I believe, it was 15 or 17. I'll have to double check. >>That's not bad for walking around in the sun with your laptop bag and, you know, it's getting recharged. I guess the problem you run into with a lot of these recharging devices is that the plugs are never compatible. >>Right. That's also-- that brings me to something that a company called Green Plug is working on. You know, why do we have so many different cords and chargers for devices that might even draw the same amount of power, but this company, Green Plug, is working on a universal power adaptor so that you'd be able to charge a variety of devices into it. Just pack one charger. You know, you forget the one for your cell phone. You forget the one, you know, for your other gadgets. Then you don't have to worry. You just pack this one thing and I believe it will also shut down the power once it detects that things are fully charged. I think that's the idea so that is another efficiency. >>Eliminates that vampire [inaudible] power source. >>Right. Speaking of other solar, or gadgets in general, Solio is a solar charger that we reviewed in the past. This is a newer one and it's just a cool design. I mean, solar gadgets like these have been around for awhile but not in this design. It's like this tulip petal shape. It's kinda cute. It also comes in a-- in a hemp bag. You know. >>Very green. Nice. >>Got the green credentials through and through and that's from Better Energy Systems. >>That's cool. Actually, I have one of those and I was disappointed because it didn't have a plug that would fit my Samsung phone. >>Oh, no. [inaudible] >>Which is good for the whole problem, you know, how many plugs in [inaudible], how many different kinds of devices [inaudible]. >>Yeah. I mean I'm terrible with packing. I just throw things in the bag, to be honest; and, I mean, look at all the adapters here. Like, hopefully, you don't have this many gadgets. If you do, you're definitely a CNET fan. But this is too much. Like if I'm just leaving home with my BlackBerry, then I only need to bring one little plug and then the attachment with the Solio. >>Yeah. I think you put all this in the backpack, though. >>Right. Right. >>Got a question here about, what are some things you do at home that are good for the environment that don't cost anything? >>Um. >>Just easy fixes to save energy. >>Yeah, there are simple things like your grandma would know about like heavy curtains around your windows block the drafts, for one thing. Make sure your windows are sealed and you don't have air coming through. That could save on your heating. Obviously, that uses more energy than all of your electronics around your house. Unplug everything when you're done using it. You know, if you feel the power brick plugged into the wall and you feel that it's warm, that means it's still drawing power; and even if it's not warm, it might be drawing power; but, you know, some of these devices that show you what you're using, have those little displays [inaudible] the watts, might be useful if you're really obsessive compulsive. You can run around and test everything; and once you do that once, you'll kind of get to know what you should cut. You know, like even leaving a pot of water boiling for too long uses a lot gas or electricity but. >>No, that's true. I was just thinking that I often leave my laptop power adapter plugged in, you know, even if I've got the laptop away with me, so obviously, that brick there drawing some energy. >>Right. >>Is there any-- and it's kind of inconvenient for me to go under my desk and unplug that brick. >>Right. >>Is there a device that can do that automatically, those power meters you're talking about? >>Yes. There is this-- I mentioned this Watt Stopper sensor is the one that-- oh. I have it in here. >>Bag of tricks. >>So this little guy is one of the more innovative, you know, products out there that actually has a separate sensor that will sense when you're near your desk and shut it down. This-- there's another one called the Mini Power Minder that is a lot smaller that, if I'm remembering correctly, will sense when you are away and then shut a connected appliance down but-- Mini Power Minder, I think, is the name of it. >>Okay. >>I haven't thought about that one for awhile. >>I've got another question about-says, "I don't turn my computer off at night but I turn the screen off. I've heard that only the screen is the major energy stealer. Is that true?" >>It depends upon what kind of a screen you have. If you've got a big giant CRT, you know, big huge monitor from 1984, that's the major energy stealer. But with LCD screens, a lot of them are very, very low energy now and they also have fewer toxic ingredients in them than CRTs. >>Yeah. CRTs are huge. >> Um hum. >> [Inaudible] if you-- an LCD will cut down just-- if you go from a CRT to an LCD, you'll get an immediate savings of energy, probably in the magnitude of what, 50 per cent? >>Yeah. I've heard figures like that. But a lot of people turn their-- leave their screensaver on and that actually is not a good energy saving thing. It's better to power your stuff down when you're not using it because your hard drive is most likely using more than your little thin monitor. >>That makes sense. And a lot of computers, laptops especially, but even PCs, I think it's built into Windows software... >> Um hum. >>Is that you have these energy settings, energy saving settings, so your computer will actually automatically turn off the hard drive, or the hard drives, when they're not in use and that'll save a fair amount of energy. But the problem I found with those types of settings is that as soon as you go back to your computer-- like if you leave it for 15 minutes, come back, and leave it for 15 minutes and come back, every time you get-- you move that mouse again... >>Off and on. >>Yeah. You hear that hard drive spin up and it takes a little time for you to get stuff happening on the screen. >>Right. >>Yeah. >>It can be a pain but Windows Vista, Windows XP and Mac OS 10 have pretty easy to manage energy settings once you look them up. And if you have any questions about where to find some of these settings or products or reviews or other resources, feel free to email, you know, one of us. We can send you some links later. Because the steps aren't too hard to take to make your computer power down automatically, but it's just the matter of getting around to it. It's like one of those little chores that you never get around to and, again, a lot of green watchdog groups have criticized computer makers or operating system makers for not having the most stringent energy settings out of the box, so you do have to make that extra effort, generally, yourself. Too bad. >>Well, that about wraps us up today for our talk on green energy and I'm afraid there's a lot of questions we didn't get to, but our time is up. Tomorrow we're gonna have Dong Ngo who will-- he's one of our lab guys. He's going to talk about how to tune up your PC, get it to sort of your maximum efficiency; and he'll be ready to answer your questions about that. So, I'm Wayne Cunningham, Senior Editor, at CNET car tech. Also Elsa Wenzel, Senior Associate Editor, at CNET and that's us. >>Yup. Thanks. >>Thanks. ^M00:32:30 [ Music ]

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