DENVER — When our phone's battery gets low, we're usually in a mad dash to find the nearest charger to give us a boost, but a new iPhone feature intentionally charges at a slower rate to help the environment.
Apple caused quite the stir on social media with the new feature called clean energy charging. One Twitter user wrote, “They snuck this in on us.” Another said, “If you noticed your iPhone is charging a little slower recently, it may be due to a new updated setting Apple added.”
The feature is set to the "on" position as a default, but it’s easy to turn off. Those with iPhones can go their phone’s settings, then battery, then battery health and charging and then clean energy charging. You then click "off."
“Apple is moving toward reducing the carbon footprint of all of our devices,” said Dr. Steve Beaty, professor and chair of computer sciences at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
The feature slows your phone’s charge during peak hours of electrical use. It also uses location information to slow your charge if you’re in a region of the country where the grid uses higher carbon emission electricity and less solar and wind.
Experts are at odds about whether this is good or bad.
“Most people think, and I think appropriately, ‘Hey, it’s my iPhone at my house. How much could it matter?’ But when we start looking at hundreds of millions of devices all over the world, to a certain degree, why not do this? Why not slow things down?” said Beaty.
“I don’t think this really appeals to the younger generation,” said Darin Duber-Smith, senior lecturer at MSU Denver and green energy consultant. “I think they’re very cynical about whether companies can really do anything about trying to save the planet, and rightfully so. These companies can really do nothing more than minimize their negative impact on the environment. They can’t really help the environment.”
Duber-Smith says green energy initiatives are putting more stress on the grid, and companies like Apple are working with the government to modify consumer behaviors because of that stress.
“It’s green washing,” he said. “It’s when you’re trying to make your company look more sustainable or greener than they really are. The grid is very stressed, and as we put more onto the grid, i.e. electric cars, it’s only going to get more stressed.”
On the other hand, Beaty sees this feature as encouraging smart consumption among phone users and says the location feature is intuitive.
“It won’t slow down charging at what it considers an unusual place,” Beaty said. “So, for example, it might slow down charging in the evening at your home, but it won’t slow down if you’re plugged in to a charger at an airport or hotel.”
“If I was Apple, I wouldn’t use the term clean energy,” said Duber-Smith. “I think that’s the problem. What you’re really doing is, it’s an energy saver function.”