Saving Energy with Kids

It’s a well-known fact that children are expensive little things. They eat an enormous amount of food, considering the relatively small size of their bodies, and they run around the house causing untold amounts of damage. They’re also amongst the biggest energy consumers, with more gadgets and electronic toys than ever before.

A Child of 1993

Back in 1993, a six year old child would have a few battery-powered toys. Perhaps a radio controlled car, or the ‘Lights Out’ game. Teenagers might have been lucky enough to have a games console such as the Mega Drive or the SNES. Lucky kids got a small portable TV in their bedroom, and in 1998 they might have excitedly anticipated the launch of the Game Boy Colour. Their hand-held games consoles, like other toys, took AA batteries or big 9V batteries if they were more powerful.

A Child of 2013

Leap forward two decades, and compare those children with the kids of 2013. They’ve borrowed the family iPad, become obsessed with Minecraft and claimed it as their own. They have power-hungry smartphones, large flat-screen TVs the likes of which would only have been seen in a cinema back in 1993, and a vast array of games consoles that don’t just require power but also a constant connection to the internet. The Nintendo DS has replaced the Game Boy Colour and it, too, requires regular charging from the mains. In addition, children usually have a PC or laptop of their own, or at least shared access to the family computer, and other gadgets including MP3 players and digital cameras to add to their collection.

A Gadget-Hungry UK

Kids didn’t have mobile phones in 1993. In 2013, one in ten children has a mobile phone by the time they’re six years old. Every year, parents spend an average of £600 on gadgets for one child.

The average person owns ten ‘devices’, including mobile phones and tablets, with a total value of more than £4,000. Our kids are apparently spending an average of 353 hours a year playing with electronic gadgets, though most parents would probably say that the figure was a little low.

The Rising Cost of Entertainment

Many parents believe that keeping their kids entertained at home is a cheap alternative to taking them out to their favourite local attractions. Yet, charging a tablet computer, MP3 player and a mobile phone can really eat into your household energy. The average household now uses £62 a year powering the TV in their lounge. Bedroom TVs might be slightly smaller, but can still contribute around £50 each to your yearly electricity bill. What’s worse is that often people aren’t watching their TVs when they’re using up the power.

Rising Energy Prices

As if the figures above weren’t enough to get pulses racing, there’s a general trend of increasing energy prices that we all have to contend with. Between 2002 and 2012, the average household income went up just 1%. In the same time, electricity prices went up 100%. Gas prices went up a panic-inducing 170% over the same ten-year period.

It’s scary to think where our energy prices could go over the next decade. Our energy bills are now taking a much bigger portion of our household income than they ever have before. 25% of households are now experiencing ‘fuel poverty’, and the increasing prices show no sign of stopping. In order to pay those bills, we’ve all had to make sacrifices elsewhere, reducing the money we spend on other essentials including food, clothing and travel.

Reducing Energy Bills with Kids

Kids, in particular, have a habit of switching TVs to standby or leaving them on completely. Then, they get distracted by their iPad, a phone call or their Nintendo DS and the TV is left consuming energy. A standby killer or a timer can be a blessing for a parent trying to reduce their energy bills, as these handy tools will disconnect the power to the TV at a certain time, or when it’s left on standby, to stop the bills going up with nobody watching.

Parents want their children to be safe. Kids are taught from a young age not to play with plug sockets, and so it can seem like a contradiction to ask them to switch off the plugs once they’ve finished playing with their toys. A wireless socket is another valuable tool, allowing kids to switch the sockets off simply by pressing a button on the provided remote control.

A Typical Situation

We’re now a nation of multi-taskers. Even our youngest kids refuse to do just one thing at a time. The average living room TV consumes 17p over a six-hour period. If your son or daughter is using the TV to play their games console then that costs an additional 13p for the same length of time. If they’re also using their laptop, and connecting everything to a wireless router, that’s another 10p. Over a six-hour period, just playing their Playstation and chatting to a friend on Facebook, your teen has spent 40p. The likelihood is that they’ll also be charging their mobile phone, they might have their favourite music on in the background and they’ve got the Sky box recording a TV show. Those things all increase the price you’re paying for your electricity.

What’s worse is that when they’re done, they’ll set the TV to standby. Any devices are left plugged in, even after they’re fully charged. They might even charge their phone and their tablet computer overnight, when nobody has a chance to unplug them, so that they’re continuously drawing power and adding even more to your energy bill.

An Increasing Problem

The people that make TVs, games consoles and other gadgets are constantly improving their energy efficiency. Yet, this is only when you compare them on a like-for-like basis. In theory, if the new Xbox One console were to do the same as the original Xbox console then it would do it whilst consuming a smaller amount of energy. In reality, it needs to do much more and will end up being a bigger consumer than any previous Xbox console. Our games consoles have increased capability. They’re used to watch videos, to browse the internet, to listen to music and to interact with friends. All of these things take processing power, and add to your energy consumption.

Theoretical energy saving doesn’t translate to actual energy saving, which is why it’s vital that devices are turned off and unplugged when not in use. After all, it’s a habit that will prepare your kids for their own adult years when energy consumption levels will undoubtedly be even higher.

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