Green gadgets: 12 devices that save power and cash

Help save the planet by monitoring how much power you use, cutting the waste and generating a little juice of your own.

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April 6, 2009 (Computerworld) Sesame Street's Kermit the Frog was wrong -- it is easy being green. In fact, it's getting easier every day, thanks to a slew of gadgets that can monitor how much electricity you use, reduce energy waste and even generate a little juice to power your digital lifestyle.

Welcome to the era of green gadgets, where saving money goes hand in hand with saving the environment. While power plants, transmission cables and electrical outlets are not in danger of becoming extinct, products such as low-power printers, solar battery chargers, handheld wind generators and wind-up MP3 players can lower anyone's electricity bill and carbon footprint.

The idea is to save a few watts here and there. Reducing the phantom power that a TV consumes when it's not being used or charging a notebook with a solar panel may not seem like much, but the savings add up. Every watt saved is a watt that doesn't have to be generated at a power plant and translates into less climate-changing carbon dioxide going out of its smokestack.

Just how effective are these devices? It was a little tricky calculating how much money I would save in each case. I started with a KillAWatt P4400 power meter and the U.S. Department of Energy average of 11 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity. After that, I estimated my own household's average device usage.

For example, when figuring out the savings I'd get with the Belkin Power Strip, I figured out how much power several home-office gadgets used when idle (16 hours of idle per day for 365 days a year), found that by using the power strip, I saved 21 watts per hour for a total of 140.2 kilowatt-hours and from there came to an annual savings of $14.50.

Overall, I'll be able to save a total of about $100 a year by using the devices that are described here. More to the point, it'll keep more than half a ton of climate-changing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere every year. On its own, this won't stop the ice caps from melting or Pacific Islanders from losing their shoreline homes, but it's a start that doesn't require much sacrifice.

Be warned, though -- some of these devices require an investment that will be hard to earn back in purely economic terms. But if you're in the market for a networking switch, a printer or a high-definition display anyway, why not go green while you're at it?

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