What the heck is a "Deep Deep Dark Green"?
Simple question with a simple answer - a Deep Deep Dark Green is any device that either uses very little power or does not rely on the power grid for it's power! Did I make that up - Not sure but it sure sounds good!
With all the interest in becoming energy independent I thought a good idea would be to design and build a computer system that does not rely on fossil fuels for operation. Using a laptop is not going deep green as you use a power adapter to re-charge the battery pack - guess what, that power adapter is powered from the power company! If you are using a charger designed for an automobile you still are not running deep green as you have to re-charge the car battery and that requires running the engine (which is burning gas)! Nope - you have to think "alternate" energy as the power source - not converting grid power or burning fossil fuel for power... think "fuel cell, wind power, and/or solar power sources! Now - I know what you are thinking! Fuel cells? That requires a "fuel" and an oxidizer (usually oxygen) to "create" an electrical current! Yes - that is a true statement, but there are ways to generate hydrogen without requiring the burning of fossil fuels (that is where wind and solar power sources come to play).
As one would guess this task is really not as easy as you might think. The reasons for this statement are many but I will try to condense them to something reasonable to make it easier to understand. From understanding power sources to ways to make the computer system more efficient are the subject of this blog! Even the choice of operating system for the computer comes into play.
Most of today's modern personal computers have a great deal of capability built into them. Home computers of today actually have more computing power than most mainframes did in the 1980s and with the advances being made in computer technologies you can now buy a home computer that will run rings around some 1990's Mainframe computers as well! The advances in electronics miniaturization and the ability to pack more and more transistors in the same space has led to the advent of multicore microprocessors that run at very high speeds - all sitting on your desk or in your laptop!
All of this computing power comes with a price - they are very power hungry machines! Most hi-end home computers have power supplies in them that consume around 550 - 750 Watts of electrical energy when they are running at full capacity and around 100-watts sitting idle. This can be compared to running 7 to 10 75-Watt light bulbs for the same amount of time as the computer is turned on and being used. If you use the computer system a great deal the cost of running it can be surprising! For example - if you use your computer for 3-hours a day and it consumes 300-watts on average during use then you will have used 27-Kilowatts of electricity over a 30-day period. 27-Kilowatts may not sound like too much as most homes use around 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year (Ref: http://www.tennesseepolicy.org/main/article.php?article_id=367 ). My example would use around 900 Kilowatt-hours a year to run the computer or about 8.4% of the national average for a average home. If you leave the computer running all the time then the numbers definitely increase! Not only would you use 900-Kilowatt-hours of electricity during your sessions on the computer but an additional 63-Kilowatt-hours a month ( 756 Kilowatt-hours a year) when the machine is idling at 100-watts. This translates to about 15.5% of the total yearly power used in an average home!
If you own a gaming machine it probably has at least a 750-Watt power supply and some now come with 1000-Watt (that is a kilowatt by the way) power supply to power the multi-video cards needed for hi-end gaming software! What this means is the gaming machines (PCs) use even more power than a normal home computer. One thing though - they sure have some real pretty graphics capabilities! Of course all that power must be going somewhere and that somewhere is in the form of heat. They not only generate a good deal of heat (which you have to get rid of or enjoy a dry sauna unless you live above the arctic circle) but adds to your carbon footprint (love that term - still - have not found any carbon footprints on the sidewalk yet) or the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by the power company supplying the power to run your computer.
I wanted to break away from the "more power" cycle for my personal computer so I started looking into "alternative" computing systems. Just to be fair I own one of the hi-end home computer systems which contains two very power-hungry video cards, two dual-core processors (total of four processor cores), very high-speed memory (also very power-hungry) and massive storage capacity - in a nutshell it is not a machine I want to have running all the time! Given the configuration of my "home" system I burn through about 700-watt/hour of electricity and given today's cost for grid power that has become unacceptable to me.
In today's world of miniaturization there exist computer systems most people are not aware of with some impressive capabilities but are very small in size. These computer systems are built for the "embedded" computing market so the normal consumer never runs across the devices except when they are built into something else. Some examples would be your cell-phone (ever wonder how they can do all the things they do?), a PDA device (which now seems to be a cell-phone as well), modern medical equipment such as is found in most emergency rooms to monitor patients or in the hospital rooms to monitor things such as blood pressure, heart-rate and so on, car navigation and entertainment systems, portable GPS devices and the list goes on. What most people do not realize is the capabilities of these "embedded" computers has reached the level of home computer capabilities of machine built just 4 or 5 years ago but with a much smaller physical size and very low power requirements!
In thinking about the power waste of my home system I hit upon the idea of looking into an alternative method of accessing information and email, things I do every day but don't necessarily require the capabilities of my home computer system. To this end I have created a "partial list" of things I would want a general use home computer system to perform. Part of my criteria for a home computing system are:
- Capable of browsing the Internet with relative ease - what good is using a computer to view web pages if it is a hassle to do so? This includes the capability to view Flash-based and Java applet based websites along with the normal video streaming technologies used to display video.
- Capable of getting and sending my email, again with relative ease. It should have the capability of accessing email using several different protocols to allow the access to multiple email accounts on different systems (personally I have 7 distinct email accounts - and need each one too).
- It should have plenty of storage space to allow me to store documents, pictures and music. Given the power requirements of most physical hard drives I am using solid-state drives - about 2 -watts of power total per drive. Even the 2.5-inch hard drives draw over twice that much power and are subject to mechanical failure whereas a solid-state drive has no moving parts so is not subject to mechanical failure (bump it while running and it does not crash!).
- It should be capable of playing music. It should be capable of displaying my pictures in different formats. I realize this is more of an "applications" requirement but for audio and video/picture capability you need the proper hardware so I am including it in my "list".
- It should be capable of sending and receiving files so I can load and remove files from storage. This requirement implies the capability to connect the computer to some form of a network.
- It should have the capability to connect to my wireless home network with security capabilities. Here is the connectivity alluded to in item number 5. The system should also allow for a method to connect to a wired network as well - not everyone uses wireless networking for one reason or another.
- I don't normally play hi-end games so that is not a requirement for me - but it would be a nice thing as I am sure others may want to. I don't expect a system such as I am describing to have the capability of running any hi-end, fast paced games (such as Day of Defeat or other compute-intensive First-person Shooter games). If you want to do gaming at a relatively low energy requirement get a PlayStation-3 or X-Box 360 Gaming console. An added advantage of the PlayStation-3 is the built-in BlueRay player - you can watch movies as well using it as the player. They are built specifically for running hi-end games without using a great deal or electrical power.
- It should allow me to use Bluetooth devices such as a keyboard, mouse and headphones to keep the wiring clutter to a minimum. I prefer to use Bluetooth in place of some other "wireless" technologies since it is very prevalent now and my PDA/Phone is Bluetooth capable so I can link to the PDA/Phone for either internet access or to move music/video/data files between the two systems.
- It should be small so as not to take up much desk space - if it is capable of being connected to the back of a monitor so much the better!
- USB-OTG 2.0 capable - For those of you who are not aware of the OTG part it stands for "On The Go" and is an extension to the USB specification. Basically it allows the USB port to either act as a host or slave port. Connecting a USB device such as a USB keyboard or USB Thumb-Drive to the port will cause the port to act as a Host port. If you want to connect, say, a PDA/Phone with a USB port on it you may want the USB-OTG port to act as a Slave port for the link if you are looking to access the Internet through the PDA/Phone. The PDA/Phone will act as the Host port and allow TCP/IP communications (if configured) between the PDA/Phone's Wireless Network connection and the computer system. (Very handy if you don't have Internet connectivity due to no grid power or fallen trees across the phone lines/cable lines after a Hurricane or Violent Storm (natural disaster).
- It should consume no more than 20 watts of power total - monitor and all! Preferably less if possible!
- It should not require power from the local power grid!
Wait a minute - did you read that last requirement correctly???
Yes - You DID!!!
I want the system to perform all of the above functions with a power footprint of less than 20 Watts TOTAL and no reliance on the local power grid! The lower the power requirements the better! Not only should it require less than 20-watts total it also must not rely in any way on the local power grid for it's power requirements! This is the reason I call it the Deep Deep Dark Green computer system.
Hehehe - you decide as you read more about this idea and it's implementation!