NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Electric Power And The Computer Factor

September 7, 2000

In 1980, the Union of Concerned Scientists forecast that only "minor increases in electricity consumption" would occur in the future. They didn't anticipate computers and other high-technology paraphernalia -- and they were woefully wrong. In fact, electricity consumption has risen more than 60 percent in the two decades since.

But such forecasts blinded economic regulators and green activists to the electricity needs of the future -- and the need to build more power plants.

Here are just a few realities of today's energy-hungry new economy:

  • Silicon Valley companies consume as much power as small steel mills -- and their requirements are growing over 7 percent per building, per year.
  • A personal computer and its peripherals typically boost power consumption in homes by about 5 percent per year.
  • The Web's invisible infrastructure consumes at least twice as much power as desktop hardware.
  • Although the amount of power it takes to create, process or transmit a single bit is cut in half about every 18 months, the number of bits in play is doubling much faster.

No-power-growth advocates had their way with regulators and utilities -- and nowhere more so than in California. Now California, New York and other states are scrambling to reverse course. But it will take years to rehabilitate and expand systems this large.

Source: Peter Huber (Manhattan Institute) and Mark Mills (Competitive Enterprise Institute), "Got a Computer? More Power to You," Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2000.


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