1980s to now: Changes in energy usage in businesses

Modern IT classroom

The 1980s seem like a recent time for many of us, but as we approach 20 years of the 21st century, the 80s are now a distant memory. In the 1980s, the distribution of energy usage in a business was very different. According to Treehugger, the 1980s were the tail-end of the boom in world energy consumption, after which both production and consumption have levelled off to an extent. A major reason for this levelling has been the developments made to how we use energy.

Improvements in Heating, Cooling, and Ventilation

Over the years, the development of many kinds of energy efficient heating, cooling, and ventilation has drastically changed the energy needs of businesses. Maintaining a comfortable environment is one of the most expensive parts of having an office building space. New air conditioning models that now have, for instance, a fan-only switch, can make it much easier to avoid using excess air conditioning at night. In the 1980s, no smart thermostats were available, so manually setting the temperature for a space was necessary, rather than using an adaptive computerised thermostat to turn on and optimise temperatures automatically – even when you’re not in the office.

Appliance and Lighting Efficiency

In the 1980s, all bulbs would be fluorescent or incandescent, rather than the modern LEDs that are being used in many offices today. The energy use of those older bulbs would be greater, as well as the maintenance needed to replace bulbs much more frequently. In addition, over the past two decades appliance manufacturers began producing efficient versions of everything from copiers to refrigerators as the concerns about carbon in the atmosphere have grown substantially. These appliances, at first very expensive and thus seemingly unjustified, have become much more mainstream, with some of the lower-end models now coming with efficiency measures already included.

An Area of Greater Energy Use: Reliance on Computers

While televisions were a popular feature of the home in the 1980s, “screen time” at work was much rarer. Using computers would be a part of specialised jobs, rather than the dominant way of communicating and working that we see today. This has increased the electricity needs of the modern small business. Given that as many as half of businesses leave computers on overnight and on weekends, according to DssW, there are substantial potential savings to be made simply by changing the status quo and powering down all computers at night. Why don’t you give it a try?

Small and Medium Businesses Leading the Way

With organisations like The Carbon Trust offering resources to small and medium enterprises, they have become some of the leading sources of energy innovation in the decades since the 1980s. Since computers are a standard method of working in modern companies, many are choosing to go fully paperless, reducing printing costs as well as the need to power printers with electricity. Additionally, small companies are incentivising cycling to work or taking public transportation, as well as rideshare programmes. Allowing workers who need the flexibility to work from home also reduces the energy consumption of the office, which has become a popular option for people whose tasks can be carried out fully online.

While the rise in computing has generated substantial new energy loads, the rise of sustainable energy sources and more efficient appliances are working to make the 2020s a far cry from the 1980s.

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