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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 January 2007, 14:48 GMT
UK hooked on 'essential' gadgets
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

Computer shop. Image: AP
Gadget consumption is inexorably rising, new research shows
British consumers will buy about 30 million electrical and electronic items over the coming six months, according to the Energy Saving Trust (EST).

Its research shows many Britons regard items such as cordless phones and electric toothbrushes as "essential".

Electrical consumption by consumer gadgets is expected almost to double over the next five years.

The trust is calling for gadgets to carry labels warning shoppers how much they will cost to run.

It believes labelling might persuade shoppers either to buy less or to choose more energy-efficient models.

This increase in electricity consumption would result in greater carbon dioxide emissions
Philip Sellwood

"We don't want to be saying 'don't have it' - a lot of it is about information and choices," said EST chairman Edward Hyams.

"On televisions, for example, we would like to see labels saying 'if you watch it, it will cost x pence per hour, if you leave it on standby, it will cost y pence'. Then you can present the environmental cost in monetary terms," he told BBC News.

More juice

Research carried out for the trust suggests Britons are increasingly regarding electrical and electronic items as indispensable.

Two-thirds of people planning to purchase a cordless phone said it was an "essential item", while a half of those intending to buy an electric toothbrush said the same.

Over the next six months, Britons intend to buy:
digital cameras - 2.5 million
mobile phones - 2.5 million
televisions - 2.25 million
computers - 1.75 million
cordless phones - 1.25 million
DVD players/recorders - 1.25 million
microwave ovens - 1.25 million
mp3 players - 1.25 million
electric kettles - 1.25 million
hairdryers/stylers - 1 million

A quarter of those intending to buy juice-makers and coffee machines also regarded them as essential.

Newer appliances are generally more efficient than old ones; so in principle, purchasing new goods can reduce energy demands.

But many gadgets are not bought as replacements, but as additions to the household. By 2020, British households are forecast to contain 2.6 televisions on average.

Televisions are an exception to the trend of rising efficiency. Modern plasma screens can use four times as much electricity as a conventional cathode-ray set, though exact comparisons are difficult because plasma screens tend to be much bigger.

The trust describes plasma TVs as "a prime example of gadget addiction".

And Britons are clearly becoming more voracious addicts. Over the past 10 years, the trust says, electricity use by electrical and electronic gadgets has risen by 47%; but the next five years will see an increase of 82%.

"This increase in electricity consumption would result in greater carbon dioxide emissions, one of the major causes of climate change," observed EST chief executive Philip Sellwood.

Market leading

The trust is working with manufacturers to increase the efficiency of their product lines and to develop labelling, and says that some are responsive.

Man watches plasma screen. Image: AP

"A number of manufacturers are interested in the area and are wanting to develop differentiated products," said Mr Hyams. "Some think regulation will come, and are waiting for it to come.

"It's a bit like food labelling - those who did it early were able to have a more decisive voice in how it looked and how it worked."

But even if gadgets are labelled, even if each one becomes more efficient, that does not mean the power used by gadgets overall will decline.

The efficiency of refrigerators has increased markedly, so that the least efficient new fridge freezer on sale today consumes only half as much energy as the least efficient products available eight years ago.

However, so many houses now have two fridges that the total energy consumed by home refrigeration has gone down by only 2% over the same period.

Increases in consumption are keeping pace with increases in efficiency.


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