Does a white Web burn too many watts?

Colors have costs, but not for LCD screens. So where's my government rebate?

By Andrew Leonard
Published April 23, 2007 5:04PM (EDT)

If you go to the ecoIron blog to read a post about the "low wattage color palette for Web designers," you will see the thing itself in action. On CRT monitor screens -- you know, those fat ugly monsters that put the "desktop" in "desktop computing" -- displaying different colors consumes varying amounts of wattage. White burns hottest, black the least. So one Web designer came up with a palette of colors designed to minimize watt consumption, and you can see it for yourself at ecoIron.

I was made aware of this by a friend who passed on a link to the Department of Energy Web site that rates color wattage. In that corner of the Web that devotes itself obsessively to efficiency tweaking, the topic was all the rage in January. There is even a campaign to get Google to change its home page so it didn't display so much wasteful white space. Imagine all the energy savings if all the billions of Google searchers weren't burning so many watts!

This is the kind of conservation effort that dedicated computer geeks love: Tweak your Web site's background color to maroon, and save the world! But there's a qualifier. It makes almost no difference to an LCD screen what colors are on your Web page. In fact, in terms of overall energy consumption, an LCD monitor typically consumes half to two-thirds as much electricity as a CRT. So if you really want to be a responsible Web user, upgrade!

The potential for new iterations of high-tech gizmos to consume less power than their predecessors is one of the few things that keep me hopeful about humanity's potential to innovate itself out of a civilization-annihilating energy crisis. So, naturally, I would like nothing better than to replace the two CRT monitors that still hum greedily in my house with handsome new energy-efficient LCD screens. I'm a big believer in shiny new high-tech conservation efforts. But I would also like a solar water heater, a hybrid car, and a pony. Alas, I think that like many people, I will only upgrade when forced to by a monitor that one morning refuses to display any colors at all.

Which leads me to wonder, where is the helping hand of government? There are rebates available for purchasing new, energy-efficient washers and dryers. There are rebates for installing solar power. Where's my LCD rebate? Come on, Arnold -- the time has clearly come to terminate all CRTs. The city of Santa Clara is offering a rebate for LCD monitor purchases -- a whopping $20. California should take the lead. Give me the push I need: Reward me for my consumption.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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