CEATAC Offers a Glimpse of Greener Gadgets to Come

This year at CEATEC, Japan’s consumer electronics trade show, 3-D displays and Toshiba’s time-shifting, Cell chip-based LCD television are generating all the buzz. But what about green electronics?

Officially, the theme of this year’s gathering is “Digital Convergence — Defining the Shape of Our Future.”  Unofficially, there’s a strong undercurrent of energy-efficient innovation that electronics makers are harnessing and pouring into products that will soon end up in consumers’ hands. The most obvious indicator is the Green IT Pavilion, which is three times bigger this year than it was last year. In general, exhibitors are stepping it up, showing off prototypes of gadgets that do more with less electricity.

Here are a couple of ways electronics makers are pushing green technology forward lately.  They might not have the eye-blistering appeal of a 60-inch 3-D display, but they stand to have a big impact on consumer electronics.

Solar Charging
Already on sale in Japan and on display at CEATEC, Sharp’s solar cellphone may look homely and utilitarian, but TDK is adding some flair and color choices to solar chargers. The company’s designs might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the technology points to future gadgets with solar panels that do a better job of seamlessly blending with their designs.

OLED is laying low this year after prototypes like Samsung’s jaw-dropping 31-inch OLED (displayed at CES 2008) failed to materialize. Still, a couple of intriguing concepts (like Sony’s bendable OLED screen) can be spotted on the show floor. Philips, however, is showing off the technology’s viability as a source of lighting, with the latest version of its eye-catching OLED chandelier.

Although a niche technology now, DisplaySearch expects the OLED lighting market to take off in 2011 (when more manufacturing capacity is expected to come online), reaching $6 billion in annual revenues by 2018. Currently, the most efficient OLEDs generate 44 lumens per watt, making them more efficient than incandescent bulbs (15 lumens per watt), but less than fluorescents (60 to 70 lumens per watt). Recently researchers have been able to push OLEDs to 90 lumens per watt, albeit just for a short while. Still, the technology looks promising.

Wireless Charging
As Stacey points out at GigaOM, wireless charging efficiency is currently stuck in 50 to 70 percent range — not exactly a green technology.  Nonetheless, companies like Intel are researching ways to nudge those efficiency rates up. Dell last week delivered an unexpected jolt to the PC market when it debuted the Latitude Z with wireless charging at 70 percent efficiency. The buzz continues this week with concepts from Wild Charge wireless charging pad for gadgets and Fulton Innovations’ eCoupled wireless power transfer technology. It may take a while, but if helps eliminate chargers and further the development of wireless car charging stations, it will be worth it.

As more Americans shift toward energy-efficient homes, you can expect manufacturers to continue to push technologies and designs that make it easier for them to secure a spot in a growing number of green households.

Question of the week

What energy-efficient features do you want to see in your electronics?