Green Plug Power Adapter Rallies Supporters

green, green power, green plug, ecology, sustainability
Artwork: Chip Taylor
Wouldn't it be great if your cellphone, laptop, camera, printer and MP3 player all used the same electrical power adapter, instead of a separate "wall wart" for each gadget?

It's not hard to imagine how the adapter would work. A USB cable would be sufficient to carry both power and data between a power supply and multiple devices. Each gadget, when connected via USB to the power supply, could transmit its power needs over the cable to a one-size-fits-all power adapter, which would then deliver the correct voltage back through the same cable. Should you find yourself on a trip without your power supply, you wouldn't need to go on a hunt for the correct model, nor would you need to pay fifty dollars for it at a cellphone store. There'd only be one type that worked with all portable gear. Any convenience store could stock them.

There's an obvious green tech angle, too: Smart adapters would be able to turn off the "phantom power" that an unintelligent adapter continues to deliver to a fully-charged phone overnight. When you throw out your phone for a new one, you could keep the adapter rather than adding it to the local landfill and buying a different one for your new model.

Yet consumer electronics manufacturers, usually quick to adopt standards that make their devices interoperable, have balked at switching to a universal power supply. Green Plug, a startup that makes components for a USB-based single power source system, drew a favorable response from readers when the Standard wrote about the technology last summer.

But gadget makers seem to have no compelling financial incentive to adopt Green Plug's technology. It would require them to add Green Plug's chip, or similar hardware and software, into every phone, camera, or music player they build, making them more expensive and more complicated to build.

Another stumbling block for manufacturers: A universal power supply would kill the market for replacement power supplies. Manufacturers sell these at a steep markup price to customers who lose or break the original one that came with the device, and aren't tech-savvy enough to procure a low-cost generic replacement.

Green Plug CEO Frank Paniagua, who twenty years ago helped develop and market the VESA standards that enabled PCs and monitors from different manufacturers to work together, complained to CNN last year that none of the big consumer electronics companies wanted to be first to switch to a universal adapter. Westinghouse is the only major manufacturer to adopt the technology so far.

Green Plug is now trying to drum up public outcry through a website, iwantmygreenplug.com. The site asks consumers to list the brand names of devices they own for which they would like a universal power adapter, and to write short testimonials in favor of the tech. Green Plug's publicist has emailed some of the best quotes to reporters:

-- "This is something I've been wanting for ages. Whatever products support this idea will influence my purchasing decision."

-- "We've had standard AC plugs for 100 years... why is this taking so long?"

-- "We humans are making way too much stuff. Some of it is necessary, or at least we think so. Incompatible AC adapters are not necessary."

The bad news? So far, the site has collected only 4,443 votes, mine included.

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