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This year, more than a billion people from over 193 countries are expected to participate in Earth Day activities. Marking its 47th anniversary on Saturday, April 22, 2017, Earth Day is an annual event that promotes education and support for a healthy and sustainable environment. Improving energy efficiency is one important target that is continuously being improved through a number of innovations. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, semiconductor technologies have been critical to this progress. For example, thanks to these advances, the U.S. economy could grow by more than 70% through 2030 and still use 11% less electricity than in 2008. Here we take a look at a few ways that new technologies are helping to drive energy efficiency.
While basic programmable thermostats have been available for some time, connected thermostats are a relatively recent innovation for improving energy efficiency in homes. Using a combination of advanced sensors and wireless communications, these systems enable homeowners to access and control their home’s heating and cooling systems remotely via mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. With this capability, homeowners can use less energy and save money. For example, users can program the system to use less power in times of high electricity demand or remotely adjust temperature settings when they’re away from home.
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) use semiconductors and electroluminescence to create light and are now available in a wide range of bulb options for consumers. These LED lights are so efficient that they consume ~75% less energy and last significantly longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. For example, a 12-watt LED bulb has a lifespan of ~25,000 hours, compared to ~1,000 hours from a traditional 60-watt incandescent bulb. With such a long lifespan, LEDs can be a real bonus for homeowners, who don’t have to replace them as often and thus can save money over time. Swapping out our traditional bulbs for LED lighting is kind to both the environment and our wallets.
Technology also helps conserve important resources in seemingly unexpected places, like the laundry room. Did you know that some households wash around 300 loads of laundry every year? Energy-efficient washing machines use up to 25% less energy and 45% less water than traditional machines, which means consumers can potentially save more than 3,000 gallons of water per year. There are also innovative new dryers that use sensors to automatically adjust the heat based on the moisture level of the clothes. As more households around the world adopt these energy-efficient machines, the water and power savings can have a significant and lasting positive impact on the environment.
Some modern home appliances now have the ability to “think” so that they consume only as much energy as needed to function properly. Their “brain” includes a variety of semiconductor components – sensors, microcontrollers, and power chips – that work together to continuously monitor and regulate certain conditions. For example, this digital inverterization can be used in a refrigerator to control temperature and humidity. This can be done so efficiently that it minimizes or even eliminates the need to turn the refrigerator motor on and off. Appliances like this operate more efficiently, have longer lifetimes, and consume less energy.
Taking good care of our cars – such as maintaining tire pressure and keeping the engine tuned – can help boost fuel economy and is also better for the environment. For example, properly inflated tires are not only safer and last longer, they can also improve your mileage by up to 3% a year. To help consumers with this, many of today’s cars have high-tech sensors that alert the driver when tires need to be inflated. A myriad of sensors and other semiconductor technologies are also behind the wide range of hybrid and fully electric vehicle options now available, options that use little to no fuel at all. As electric cars become more affordable, some studies say they will be cheaper to own than gas-fueled cars in the near future.
These are just a few examples of how technology is being used to improve energy efficiency in products you may use every day. Want to learn about more green technologies? Check out the eco-friendly, high-tech inventions highlighted our Earth Day 2016 blog.