The folks at Green Plug have just announced the winners of a messy plug competition that has a nice message behind it. Green Plug sells embedded technology for improving the efficiency of power consumption by electronic devices. They license at no charge their connector-type and power-supply communications protocol to encourage its use. Rather than having several AC-to-DC converters--the ugly power bricks that litter the undersides of our desks--Green Plug offers hubs that can flexibly support DC power output for many devices, dramatically reducing power usage.
As Google founder Larry Page noted in a somewhat unexpected approach to his CES 2006 keynote address, the complexity of power supplies is more than ridiculous. Google has, since then, talked about the inefficiency of power cords that connect power supplies to AC outlets--they can shed double-digit percentages of power as heat--and the ridiculous number of different voltages required on a computer mother board and the consequent inefficiency of PC power supply.
The reason for all the voltages are rooted in the past; there's a lot more flexibility today, but the urge to conserve electricity as a business decision to reduce costs is only now finally creeping into computer engineering beyond the CPU. Google started discussing this broadly in late 2006; Google may own more than a million computers worldwide, and potential far more, so they know of what they speak.
Green Plug's contest is fairly hilarious, and they gave out a variety of nice prices. Their point is that the multiplication of plugs, power supplies, and the consequent waste could be dealt with by, you know, TECHNOLOGY. Which we apparently have in great abundance.
Of course, I'm one to talk. In Seattle, we get cheap hydroelectric power for historical reasons. Some day, the dams that produce this cheap power may be taken down (our salmon stocks are in pretty poor shape), but I still like to save my pennies.