By Lou Carlozo, dealnews contributor Today's consumer electronics have transformed our lives in countless ways. Portable computers — from smartphones to tablets to laptops — aid us in our work, our shopping, and even our family finances. And of course, those devices require energy and lots of it. The trouble is that most of us don't know how much our electronic devices drain our wallets until the utility bill arrives. But in November, the Consumer Electronics Association gave consumers a tool to gauge their electricity usage and help take steps to conserve power and money. The Consumer Electronics Energy Calculator now lives on GreenerGadgets.org, the CEA's website for living green, buying green, and recycling responsibly. To learn more about the energy calculator and how it works, dealnews spoke with Samantha Nevels, the CEA's coordinator of policy communications, who shared with us how public demand led to this new consumer aid. How did the idea for an energy calculator come about? Samantha Nevels: About a year ago, we conducted a survey of 1,200 adults to understand their awareness of energy management and efficiency. We found that 60% of consumers are concerned about their electric bills, and energy consumption is the third most important attribute consumers consider in buying electronics, behind features and price. We also found out 55% were interested in an electricity management program, and 32% were interested in a mobile device to monitor their energy use. How does a visitor to your website use the energy calculator? SN: The calculator has a list of about 30 consumer electronics you might have in the home. You select the ones you have, and how many hours a week you use them. Then you can learn the cost per month, the cost per year, and your overall efficiency score, which is compared to that of the average household. So if you score under 100%, you use less energy than the average household, and if you score over 100%, you use more. It takes less than five minutes to fill out, and it's a great place to start if you want to figure out where to cut energy costs. What devices do you spotlight? SN: Some of the devices on the list include modems and computing devices; digital imaging such as cameras, camcorders, and digital photo frames; entertainment; home/office products; and telecommunications. We don't list particular brands, but we do recommend the Energy Guide when buying televisions, for example, or the EnergyStar seal. Does the list include other major appliances such as refrigerators? SN: It doesn't include your fridge and it doesn't include your heaters. It's geared to consumer electronics. But elsewhere on GreenerGadgets.org, we have advice on how to lower your overall energy bill, with devices such as the Nest Learning Thermostat ($198 with free shipping, a low by $31), a programmable thermostat that learns your schedule and greatly reduces your energy bills. Why calculate energy usage, especially when gadgets use a lot less electricity than they used to? SN: Studies have shown that the more consumers understand about their energy use, the less energy they are likely to consume. While consumer electronics manufacturers produce products that are increasingly more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, consumers can learn new habits with the devices they own that will take their personal energy savings even further. Do you have any projections on how much consumers can save in the long-run using the energy calculator? SN: We launched the calculator on November 26, so there are no statistics yet in terms of the long-term savings. But one of the big issues we want to get through to consumers is how to purchase responsibly and how to recycle responsibly. One important aspect of the e-cycling is that when folks do it properly, the metals inside these products can be used to make new electronics. A lot of consumers get frustrated with trying to figure out how to recycle consumer electronics, as there's no curbside pickup for those items. What are you doing to bridge that knowledge gap? SN: That's one of the problems we're trying to tackle because a lot of times people don't know where to go. On our website, you can put in your in your zip code and it will give you a bunch of places within a few miles of your home that accept electronics for recycling. We also have lists of mail-in locations, too. Breaking bad energy habits and forming positive new ones can be challenging, especially when it's easier to just leave everything plugged in and turned on. The way the CEA figures it, consumers need an incentive, and what better incentive than the promise of saving money? Perhaps it'll even be enough to go out and buy some more consumer electronics. Related dealnews Features: 7 Ways to Cut Hidden Costs Around the House with Green Alternatives Pedal Home on a Quality Bicycle (and a Full Wallet) with These Bike Buying Tips Out with the Old, In with the New: Reuse, Recycle, and Cash-in Old Electronics Lou Carlozo is a dealnews contributing writer. He covers personal finance for Reuters Wealth. Prior to that he was the managing editor of WalletPop.com, and a veteran columnist at the Chicago Tribune. Follow @dealnews on Twitter for the latest roundups, price trend info, and stories. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.