If you've bought a premium smartphone handset over the past few years, it's a safe bet that it came equipped with wireless charging technology baked into it. Wireless charging is wicked cool! In the Long, Long Ago, we had to carry one of the many USB cables most of us had kicking around our home if we wanted to charge our phone. Said cable needed to be plugged into a USB port and damn, they were really hard to find. Such a nightmare. Today, praise the gods, we have the privilege of having to rely on a wireless charging pad plugged into a wall at home. Or the office—they're not terribly portable and you pretty much can only use them on a flat surface like a desk or the top of a casket. And, unlike the horror of using your phone while it's connected to a USB cable, your phone will stop charging as soon as you remove it from it's charging pad. But hey, wireless!
I kid, I kid. Wireless charging's actually pretty great becau—oh shit.
On paper, wireless charging sounds appealing. Just drop a phone down on a charger and it will start charging. There's no wear and tear on charging ports, and chargers can even be built into furniture. Not all of the energy that comes out of a wall outlet, however, ends up in a phone's battery. Some of it gets lost in the process as heat.
While this is true of all forms of charging to a certain extent, wireless chargers lose a lot of energy compared to cables. They get even less efficient when the coils in the phone aren't aligned properly with the coils in the charging pad, a surprisingly common problem.
To get a sense of how much extra power is lost when using wireless charging versus wired charging in the real world, I tested a Pixel 4 using multiple wireless chargers, as well as the standard charging cable that comes with the phone. I used a high-precision power meter that sits between the charging block and the power outlet to measure power consumption.
In my tests, I found that wireless charging used, on average, around 47% more power than a cable.
As OneZero's Eric Ravencraft points out, the power being used to charge your smartphone, compared to the juice that the rest of your home consumes, is like a fart in a hurricane: hardly even noticeable. That 47% loss? even more so. Think about how many times a year you charge your phone. That you're losing close to half of the power that should be going into your handset makes that fart robust enough that you might get a quick whiff of it as the hurricane continues to whips around. Now, consider all of the other people wasting electricity to charge their phones. The stink of all of that lost power becomes strong enough that you'd swear you were standing in a bathroom at the Cracker Barrel.
As part of Ravencraft's investigation, he spoke with the good people at iFixit. They estimated, assuming that the estimated 3.5 billion smartphones were all being charged at 47% efficiency, you'd need 147 coal power plants running for 24 hours, just to charge all of those handsets, just once.
Given how fucked our environment is already, you might want to consider kicking it old school with a USB cable the next time you charge your smartphone.
Image via PxHere