Country's Cost-Cutting Culture Must Begin at Home -- With Electronics

How many electronic devices do you have in your home? How many televisions, computers, iPods, video games, and telephones do you use on a daily basis? Electronic gadgets already account for about 15 percent of household electric consumption, and as these gadgets proliferate, their energy use continues to grow.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that by 2030, new electronic gadgets will triple their energy consumption to 1,700 terawatt hours, the equivalent of the home electricity consumption of the U.S. and Japan combined. According to the IEA, the international community will have to build over 15,000 wind turbines (or 200 nuclear power plants) to power all the TVs, iPods, PCs and other home electronics expected to be plugged in by 2030. The electric bill to power all household electronics will top $200 billion a year, compared with last year's bill of $80 billion. Most of this increase in consumer electronics will occur in developing countries, where economic growth is outpacing developed nations and ownership rates of gadgets are lowest.

This proliferation of electronic devices, if not made more energy efficient, will undermine efforts to increase energy security and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. The answer to this problem will not be found in stemming the tide of electronic gadget envy, because there is no way we will be able to do that. Instead, we must encourage the development of better devices that are built more efficiently and run on less energy.

Programs like Energy Star have already started improving our electronically dependent world. Last year as a result of Energy Star, Americans saved $6,000,000,000 while also saving enough energy to power over 10,000,000 homes. However, the Energy Star program as it is currently structured cannot solve the problem due to the limited number of devices it covers.

To address this, today I am reintroducing the Smart Electronics Act.

The bill would require the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to report to Congress within a year on several key areas to ensure we achieve the clarity needed for industry to thrive. First, the DOE and EPA must assess the potential for energy efficient electronics to receive an Energy Star designation, and the potential savings accrued (e.g. cost, energy) through a specific program focused on smart electronics. Second, they must assess the global growth of electronics usage and utilization and the associated energy consumption. Lastly, the bill calls for the DOE and EPA to standardize a process for defining, categorizing, and ranking technologies as 'smart'. If it is deemed appropriate, a smart electronics emphasis would be incorporated into the Energy Star program, and a Smart Electronics Registry allowing manufacturers and sellers to register their smart electronics products established.

The bill defines smart electronics as devices that cooperate with the electrical grid to cut down on energy consumption. This minimization can be achieved through power-factor correction, utilizing stand-by options, communication and monitoring with the smart grid, taking advantage of off-peak charging and operation, on-demand and variable processing speed semiconductors, or switching to a lower power mode.

Importantly, this legislation will help us green the electronics industry by providing the private sector with reliable standards and incentives and by educating and empowering consumers to make smarter and more efficient choices -- all of which help cool the planet.

Rep Mike Honda (CA-15) represents Silicon Valley and is a member of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition. Follow Rep Honda on Facebook and Twitter.

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