Is Charging our Portable Electronics Costing the Earth?

Ryan Sanderson, Market Analyst, IMS Research



Well over a billion mobile phones are shipped each year; each with their own proprietary charger. Handsets have a typical replacement time of once every 18 to 24 months. So, this means that every two years in most cases a charger becomes redundant. This amounts to tens of thousands of tonnes of redundant chargers generated each year, for which the energy consumed in manufacturing and transporting is huge. However, it's not only wastage of redundant chargers that creates an environmental impact. The charging habits of many consumers are such that they will charge their device, such as a cell phone or a notebook, and leave the charger/adapter plugged in. This habit leads to a huge amount of wasted power (the so called "vampire effect"). One initiative which is predicted to have a large impact on the amount of energy wasted by chargers is the Universal Charging Solution (UCS), currently being driven by the GSM association. The initiative has been agreed by the majority of major mobile phone manufacturers and aims for all mobile phones shipped from 2012 onwards to have a standard micro-USB charger which can be used in conjunction with an interoperable wired charger supporting a compatible connector. It's predicted that this will have a substantial impact on the market in the long term as consumers will be given the choice to opt out of receiving a charger with their new handset. IMS Research has studied the implications of this initiative closely and forecasts that it will be adopted initially in Europe and quickly transition globally. Whilst the growth of universal chargers is forecast to explode to reach almost 1 billion units shipped in 2015, the overall shipments of mobile phone chargers is projected to decline by around 25% in the same year. Another rapidly emerging universal alternative to traditional charging in portable equipment is wireless charging (in particular inductive charging). Whilst offering convenience to the user, many wireless charging solutions have greater intelligence than traditional ones offering the ability to charge more than one device at once using the same charger and the ability to switch themselves off when they are not in use. As these solutions use a power adapter in the transmitter portion of the design, in the short term it is projected that they will complement the power adapter market and consumers will purchase solutions in addition to the supplied traditional charger. IMS Research's recent report, "The Growth Potential for Wireless Power and Charging", forecasts that over one billion portable devices will be enabled for wireless charging by 2019. Despite these new initiatives aimed at reducing wasted adapters and new competing technologies such as inductive charging, the external power adapter market is still forecast to grow from $4.5 billion today to $6.5 billion in 2015 and so plenty of opportunities still exist!