The Consumer Electronics Show, that huge once-a-year celebration of the latest, fastest, sleekest gadgetry that opens today in Vegas, has been getting greener every year, with more and more companies touting the energy efficiency of their products.
In 2008 the folks behind the show (Consumer Electronics Association) even bought the Green Gadgets show, and those exhibitors are now well-represented at CES, particularly in the Sustainable Planet section, which seems to grow exponentially by the year.
The green ghetto is great, but this year it seems energy efficiency is a major selling point for all the vendors, not just those with an ostensibly green product. Perhaps more telling, the tech journalists and taste-makers covering the event also seem to be most interested in the products that are smaller, thinner and more energy efficient than their predecessors.
In general, what happens at CES sets the tech and gadget trends for the year, so it's encouraging to see a general trend toward energy efficiency, helped along in part by the banner year smart grid had in 2009, the federal stimulus funds flowing toward various energy efficient technologies and California's recent move to put a cap on the energy consumed by televisions.
Here's a peek at seven energy efficient CES debuts that could be game-changers in the coming year:
Home Energy Manager from Direct Energy
Brought to us by a collaboration among Direct Energy, Whirlpool Corp., Best Buy, Lennox and OpenPeak, the "Home Energy Manager" connects all energy-using devices in the home (appliances, heating and cooling units, lights, electronics) to an easy-to-use, touch-screen interface that allows users to set budgets for energy use and operational parameters for appliances.
According to the companies involved, alerts will warn consumers when they are close to reaching their budget threshold for the month and offer personalized recommendations about how to reduce costs for the rest of the billing period.
Consumers will also be able to program the system directly or remotely to avoid energy consumption during peak periods. The system will be pilot-tested in Houston this spring.
"What's most important is that the Home Energy Manager isn't all about energy," spokeswoman Cybele Diamandopolous told SolveClimate. "As we've learned, this is a low-interest category for the average consumer. Operating on the OpenPeak OpenFrame platform, the Home Energy Manager integrates energy management information with other useful information such as real-time traffic reports, weather, news and access to social networks — serving as a key information terminal that's part of everyday life for residential consumers."
Low-Power Computing from Marvell Semiconductor
Of several ultra low-power technologies Marvell is unveiling at CES, the most interesting is the latest version of its Plug Computing platform, Plug Computer 3.0 (top photo).
Aimed at developers, the Plug Computer 3.0 is about the size of the average laptop battery pack and is embedded with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a built-in hard drive, all with low power requirements, which means they can be on all the time but draw less power.
The devices, which are essentially small Linux computers, require less than 2 watts to run and could be used to provide computing power to products like home automation systems, which need to be on all the time.
LightSpeaker from Klipsch
This is a classic CES gadget with a green twist: It's an energy-efficient LED light bulb that's also a speaker. You just screw in the LightSpeaker like you would any bulb, select your music source (stereo, laptop, etc.), connect the included transmitter, and the sound plays wirelessly through the speaker.
Yes it's a bit on the gimmicky side, but the breakthrough is this: It's still not easy to find LEDs in form factors that work well for the home, and these fit the bill, plus the bulbs offer major energy savings and last about 15 years, which is about 14 years longer than the average incandescent bulb and 12 years longer than the average compact fluorescent. The speaker thing is just an added bonus, but it was enough to win Klipsch a 2010 CES Innovations Award.
SilverStat 7 from SilverPAC
There are plenty of smart thermostats either on or heading to the smart home market, but what makes this one unique is the attention paid to its design and to its ability to integrate information from the local utility — two things that have so far been left to home energy monitoring displays.
Created by a company better known for universal remotes and digital picture frames, the SilverStat 7 is super sleek with a 7-inch touchscreen display. The number in the product's name refers not only to its size but also to its functionality: The thermostat can program lighting and HVAC controls according to local energy utility billing cycles for up to seven days. So, when it's expensive to run your lights and your washer they'll be off, waiting for off-peak times to roll around.
So far, SilverStat is not an automated system; once programmed with info from a consumer's zip code and utility it will notify the consumer when they should turn things on or off to save energy (and money), but it still requires action on the consumer's part.
Mirasol Display from Qualcomm
Mimicking a butterfly's wings, the Mirasol display works by reflecting light so that specific wavelengths interfere with each other to create color. Because the display relies on reflection between two membranes, it requires power only when the screen is refreshed. E-readers that use similar technology (called MEMS) often refer to it as "e-ink," but Qualcomm's latest version, unlike other e-ink displays, can handle video.
Right now it's being pitched as a display for e-readers, but it could make its way to other devices if proven successful. The technoratti are waiting to see if it lives up to the hype.
LG's Ultrathin LCD TVs
The Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes CES, made a big stink last month when California moved to mandate energy efficiency in TVs, but that isn't stopping a ton of exhibitors from bringing their low-energy LED-lit LCD displays to the show floor.
The most impressive of them is LG's line of ultrathin Infinia TVs. Less than an inch thick they boast the world's thinnest displays and are backlit by LEDs, minimizing their energy needs.
Casio Green Slim Projectors
The first projector on the market to strip out mercury without sacrificing performance, Casio's Green Slim Projectors should by all rights replace projectors in most corporate offices.
In addition to containing no mercury, the projectors are equipped with a laser and LED hybrid light source capable of achieving brightness levels of up to 3000 lumens and lasting for up to 20,000 hours (that's tens of thousands of hours longer than any traditional projector on the market today, and no LED projector out there can deliver this level of brightness). They're also far smaller than the average projector; about the size of an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, the Green Slim projectors are just 1.7 inches thick and weigh only five pounds.