It isn’t the stuff of dreams — it’s something iPhones in the United States now do, thanks to a Clean Energy Charging feature built into recent versions of Apple’s iOS 16 software.
While it barely raised eyebrows when it was first released in an update in October, the feature — which attempts to charge iPhones using electricity generated through supposedly cleaner methods — has gotten Apple customers and critics debating on social media.
Some, like popular YouTuber Marques Brownlee, have called it a win for the environment. Others have decried the feature as “woke” and a tool for “globalists.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga) said on one of her Twitter accounts that she had chosen to turn off the feature to increase her carbon footprint.
“I believe in feeding trees,” she added.
There’s a pretty good chance this eco-minded feature is running on your phone right now. Here’s what you need to know.
How does the feature work?
Broadly speaking, it’s meant to reduce your carbon footprint — if only just — by charging your iPhone at specific times of day.
A support page on Apple’s website spells out how the feature is supposed to work, at least a little: When clean energy charging is enabled and your iPhone is plugged in, it will access a “forecast of carbon emissions in your local energy grid.”
Using that forecast, your device will try to fully charge itself when “lower carbon emission electricity” is most available from the power grid. Apple also says your iPhone “learns from your daily charging routine,” so this more selective approach to charging should, but may not always, result in a full battery when you need it.
“Clean energy charging engages only where you spend the most time and regularly charge your iPhone for long periods of time, such as your home and place of work,” Apple’s support page says. “The feature doesn’t engage if your charging habits are variable or you’re in a new location.”
There are a few other things to keep in mind about this feature. If you’ve installed Apple’s iOS 16.1 update or newer on your iPhone, clean energy charging is already on unless you’ve specifically turned it off.
The feature is also only available on U.S. iPhones, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll know when it’s running — you’ll see a clean energy charging notification on your lock screen when it’s active.
Well, there are a few reasons.
One of people’s biggest concerns is that the feature is on by default. That is, Apple automatically turned the feature on once you installed the update, rather than letting device owners make that decision for themselves.
“I’m glad Apple is working on dynamic charging to shift to low carbon hours,” said Tim Latimer, CEO of a geothermal power company called Fervo Energy, on Twitter. “But the way they rolled it out isn’t great: limited awareness, default position is opted in.”
“We should demand better transparency and choice for clean energy solutions, or it’s going to backfire,” he added.
When asked why the company turned the feature on automatically rather than letting people opt in, an Apple spokesperson declined to comment.
For better or worse, this isn’t exactly new territory for Apple: When it launched a feature to “optimize” iPhone charging in a way that would reduce wear on the battery, it was also turned on by default.
Other people are just generally worried that, because of this feature, their iPhone might not be fully charged when they need it. Some users have reported that their iPhones are also charging more slowly than expected and suspect clean energy charging may be to blame, though we haven’t experienced behavior like this on any of our test phones.
I’m glad Apple is working on dynamic charging to shift to low carbon hours…BUT the way they rolled it out isn’t great. Limited awareness, default position is opted in. We should demand better transparency and choice for clean energy solutions or it’s going to backfire. pic.twitter.com/jJHUkBDIn9
— Tim Latimer (@TimMLatimer) February 26, 2023
If you have concerns about the way this feature works, or if you just want to see what life is like without it for a while, you can manually turn it off.
Open the Settings app, scroll down and tap Battery, then tap Battery Health & Charging. The clean energy charging option will be at the bottom of your screen — when you tap the green “switch” to toggle it off, you’ll get the choice to either turn the feature off until the following day or to turn it off indefinitely.
Alternately, if you see a message on your phone’s screen saying it’s scheduled to finish charging later, you can press and hold the notification to make the phone charge immediately.
If you haven’t noticed anything unusual about the way your phone has been charging, though, it might be worth leaving the feature on. An untold number of iPhones in the United States are trying to prioritize charging when more sustainably generated electricity is available, too — it couldn’t hurt to see if the feature manages to make sort of a dent in carbon emissions.
What other gadgets try to use clean energy?
Apple isn’t the only company working on how to make its gadgets more carbon-conscious. When the right kind of carbon “intensity” data is available, computers that run Microsoft’s Windows 11 software can install updates when it thinks electricity generated through cleaner methods is available.
The same goes for Microsoft’s popular Xbox game consoles. As of a February software update, they can also be set to download games and updates at times where it expects cleaner energy to be available.