The use of energy

One environmental issue that has not been directly addressed so far, that of the economic use of energy, attracts increasing attention for both environmental and economic reasons. When designing a process, or procuring equipment, the power consumption of equipment, and its ability to revert to a low energy state when not in use, have to be taken into consideration. This is a parallel to the moves which have occurred in recent years for the adoption of energy efficient monitors, which progressively switch automatically to lower-energy states as the period of non-use extends.

As with many of the environmental improvements, the drives for lower energy use combine marketing and fiscal perspectives. On the marketing front, labels such as “Energy Star” are used to promote the environmental friendliness of the product. The fiscal incentive has been mostly at the company level, with the Climate Change Levy which came into effect in April 2001. Increasing electricity bills by 8–10% is part of the UK Government’s strategy to reduce the business use of energy, and hence help meet the commitment to a 12.5% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2008–2010 that was agreed at the Kyoto Summit in 1997. There is also a more challenging goal by 2010 of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20% on 1990 emission levels. A combination of stick and carrot, CCL has been structured to reward energy-efficient companies and penalise those that waste energy.

RMIT suggests a number of approaches for design for minimal energy consumption that cover a wide range of industries. Whilst some ideas on their list are more relevant to the assembler’s factory and equipment, we have selected those items that are relevant to most electronic products:

All these design strategies are about using a minimum of resources, but in thinking more widely, there are also considerations of reusing and recovering resources. Can we remove heat from our computer that will keep our coffee warm?! More seriously, when it comes to resources other than energy (thinking particularly of water), can we reuse or recycle?

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