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Marvell Technology chief urges adoption of 'old' power-saving technology in computers

A neglected 30-year-old power-saving technology could cut electricity consumption by TVs, computers and other electronic devices by up to 50pc if it was installed world-wide, said Sehat Sutardja, chief executive of semiconductor maker Marvell Technology

Dalian (September 10, 2009) – By Peter Foster in Dalian
Published: 11:04AM BST 10 Sep 2009

The ‘power factor correction’ device, which fool gadgets into using electrical current more efficiently, offers a massive opportunity to cut emissions for almost no cost, he told delegates at the World Economic Forum summer meeting in Dalian, east China.

Mr Sutardja said it was ‘an embarrassment’ that the electronics industry was not installing ‘power factor correction’ (PFC) as standard in all devices.

“PFC has been mandated in industrial lighting and fridges for more than 30 years but because it was expensive at the time the industry has since neglected it. This is a major embarrassment as our modelling shows it could bring power savings of 30 to 50 per cent,” he said.

Mr Sutardja added that if PFC was installed at the time of manufacturing, the technology would cost no more than the current AC power adaptors that are supplied with most mobile phone chargers, laptops, PC, televisions and set-top boxes. “It’s a zero-cost solution,” he said.

However the window for reaping the benefits of installing PFC technology was closing fast, he warned, as the banning of traditional light bulbs and massive proliferation of electronic devices was fundamentally changing the pattern of household energy use.

“Within 5 to 10 years we estimate that more than 80pc of energy use will come from TVs, PCs and mobile phones because new fluorescent and LED lights are so efficient.

“There are more than 10 billion electronic devices worldwide that could benefit from PFC installation, but if we don’t act now to install this basic technology in the next 10 billion it will be too late. This change needs to happen fast.”

Asked why such a cheap technology had not been more widely adopted already, Mr Sutardja blamed the combination of lack of political will and out-dated ideas that it was too expensive and would not make a significant difference.

“It’s like a motorcyclist wearing a helmet. It obviously saves lives, but until the rider is ordered to do wear a helmet by law, he most likely won’t bother. It is the same with PFCs. Until manufacturers are ordered to install them, they don’t bother.

“Secondly because back in the 1980s PFC might cost $50 to install and the industry has out-dated ideas of how expensive this technology is.

“Thirdly, you have to consider its impact in aggregate. The saving for a single device is small, so if only 10pc of devices used PFC the effect would be negligible. But if 90pc used it, the potential total impact on energy saving could be huge.”

Mr Sutardja added that he was involved in active negotiations with the US Congress and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology to push the need for PFC to become a global standard.

“I’m absolutely passionate about this,” he added, “this technology is cheap, and because it is old enough to be out of patent, is available to all manufacturers. We have no time to lose.”