Is Wireless Charging Worth The Environmental Cost?
Wireless charging seems to be one of the biggest hype among flagship smartphones in the last few years, more than ever. Even though the technology came into the smartphone market back in 2012, only in the recent few years have both manufacturers and consumers are seemingly considering it a priority.
Most common wireless chargers use “inductive charging.” It is a wireless power transfer technology that commonly uses electromagnetic induction to charge batteries. Inductive charging gets its name from the fact that it uses inductive coupling to transmit energy. In the charging station or pad, alternating electricity is first sent through an induction coil. A magnetic field is created by a moving electric charge that varies in intensity. The induction coil generates an alternating electric current as a result of the magnetic field. Thus it is able to charge cells without requiring any electrical conduction.
The biggest problem with wireless charging is that it is inefficient in various ways. According to an experiment conducted in collaboration with OneZero & iFixit, on average wireless charging uses around 47% more power than a cable.
In their tests, charging the phone from completely dead to 100% using a cable took an average of 14.26 watt-hours (Wh). Using a wireless charger took, on average, 21.01 Wh.
Furthermore, various tests have found that the charging pads for these technologies stay on even when you are not charging because it has to keep the magnetic field ready whenever it is plugged in. Hence if you keep a wireless charging hub connected all the time, it will rack up your electricity bills day and night, unlike wireless.
Keeping aside the energy waste in multiple ways, the conventional way smartphone manufacturers have set up wireless charging for their phones nearly triples the carbon footprint for the average user.
Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, and others ditched giving their chargers with their flagship phones within the past two years. And they usually claim that they are doing it for the environment. By not giving chargers and earphones in their smartphone packaging, they claim to reduce X amount of their carbon footprint.
But the caveat —their PR teams are trying to make us forget— is that these steps are only reducing their carbon footprint, not the overall carbon emission they are causing. These decisions have knock-on effects. Whenever these giant corporations stop including necessary accessories in their products, consumers have to buy each of those themselves.
For example, in the case of Apple’s Magsafe, it is supposed to be a wireless charger but does not come with an actual charging brick for you to plugin to. You have to buy each of these separately. This would mean each of them would require separate packaging to contribute to carbon emission. And in case we have to buy them online, we would have to pay for even further packaging as well as the delivery trips of the vehicle bringing them to us.
In Note of Hope
Every time the topic of climate change comes up in front of us, it feels like we are heading towards a catastrophic, apocalyptic dead-end. And our conventional options for wireless charging it not helping with it. Still, it does not have to mean that way because wireless charging has prospects in large-scale situations like charging electric vehicles.
We need to stay alert about big corporations’ PR tactics. It is always a bit suspicious when these corporate giants take away something from us and try to convince us that it is for our own good. So whenever they claim to be climate-conscious, we, the public, need to be cautious about what chain of effects they are carefully omitting along the way.
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