We all love our gadgets — and love having more and more of them — but technophilia has a downside: Running all those gadgets takes energy.

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We all love our gadgets — and love having more and more of them — but technophilia has a downside: Running all those gadgets takes energy.

As consumers have stocked their homes with big-screen TVs, computers, cellphones and other electronics and tech devices, those products have been sucking up more and more power. In many cases, the products use more power than comparable ones used in the past.

“We’re consuming more electricity per home because of all these additional devices,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, who works for Environment California, a nonprofit advocacy group. “They use way more electricity than you think.”

For individuals, that means higher electric bills. For society as a whole, it means increased generation of greenhouse gases.

Fortunately, energy experts say, you don’t have to throw out your new LCD TV to curb your energy consumption. There are some less painful steps you can take.

And new technology, either already on store shelves or coming online soon, should help consumers cut power consumption even more, the experts say.

“With few exceptions, energy efficiency is an afterthought with manufacturers,” said Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group. “The good news is this is starting to change.”

Efficient products

A representative of the Consumer Electronics Association, an industry trade group, noted that energy consumption of many products has come down considerably over time. The association, which backs voluntary rather than government-imposed efficiency standards, has a Web site where consumers can search for energy-efficient tech products.

The amount of energy consumed by gadgets is rising rapidly at a time when consumption by other products, such as refrigerators and air-conditioning units, has fallen markedly.

In 2001, the average U.S. household used about 778 kilowatt-hours per year — about 7 percent of total electricity use — to power tech gadgets, according to the Department of Energy. That was up from about 633 kilowatt-hours per year — or 6 percent of total home electricity use — in 1997.

Part of the increase reflects the proliferation of devices. DVRs, MP3 players and wireless routers have gone from exotic to commonplace. Cellphones have grown in popularity. And many consumers have gone from having one PC at home to two or three.

Power-hungry products

Along the way, consumers have replaced older tech products with ones that are bigger and faster — and often more power-hungry.

TVs with liquid crystal displays, for instance, are typically more efficient than older ones with cathode-ray tubes. But consumers often replace their older TVs with much bigger ones, which reduces any efficiency gains.

Many consumers might regard the energy used by these devices as a fair trade for the benefits they offer. But much of the energy is consumed when the devices aren’t being used. Power plugs that stay plugged in even when disconnected from a cellphone still suck electricity.

Some devices use almost as much power when switched off as when they are on. When you turn off a cable set-top box or a DVR, you’re often just turning off the LED light, noted Michael Kanellos, a senior analyst with research firm Greentech Media.

“You’re saving almost no power,” he said.

With recent spikes in energy prices, concern about global warming and prodding from regulators and advocates, the electronics industry has increasingly focused on efficiency issues, analysts say. Many devices now use less power in standby mode than they did before, for instance.

“We’ve seen very significant improvements in the amount of power [computers] are drawing,” noted Steve Kleynhans, an analyst with research firm Gartner.

The growing use of portable devices — cellphones and laptop computers most notably — has also forced manufacturers to think more about energy efficiency to extend battery life and reduce overheating.

“All gadgets that want to run off batteries have to sip power,” Klenhans said.

Shut off devices

More improvements are on the way. Replacing the fluorescent backlights in LCD TVs and computer monitors with LEDs promises to make those products more efficient.

New power strips will shut off power completely when they sense a device is not in use.

But there’s much that consumers can do, too, including shutting off devices when they aren’t in use, adjusting settings so they consume less power and shopping for gadgets with the government’s “Energy Star” rating, which identifies the most efficient products on the market in a particular category.

Mostly, though, it just takes consumer awareness of how much energy their gadgets are using, experts say. And they have an incentive to do so: Conserving electricity saves money.

Horowitz estimates that consumers can lower their power bills by 5 percent just by doing things like turning off their gadgets when they’re not using them.

“It’s a simple way that anybody can save money,” said Casey Harrell, a campaigner at Greenpeace.