California Energy Commission Eyes Energy Use Standards for Computers


The California Energy Commission is worried about how much energy all of those computers in residents homes and Silicon Valley’s businesses are using. According to the Commission, computers and monitors are the leading users of energy in the state and many of those devices sit idle throughout the day.

Last month, the Commission released a proposed set of energy efficiency standards that will require all computers sold in California to start conserving energy. The standards, if adopted, would be the first in the country and could also provide a model for other states or federal authorities.

According to the proposal, released by the Commission statewide adoption would result in more than 588 gigawatt-hours per year in computer monitor and displays and 1913 gigawatt hours per year in computers after stock turnover. The rules would also save consumers approximately $306 million per year in electric bills after stock turnover.

Energy regulators are targeting big energy users like desktop computers and small scale servers which still require a significant amount of power even when idle. Laptops, notebooks and other small devices are included as well but the requirements for energy savings have been adjusted slightly downward. The Commission envisions something that would work a bit like Energy Star appliances already do. To wit:

The proposed regulations are similar to the ENERGY STAR® Version 7.0 standards but are about 30 percent more stringent. About 20 percent of monitors on the market meet the ENERGY STAR standards. The core opportunity for energy savings in computer monitors and signage displays lies in reducing the amount of energy used in “on mode.” Monitors operate about 30 percent of the time in “on mode,” and most would only need to reduce power consumption by 3 to 5 watts to comply with the proposed standard. This goal could easily be met by replacing inefficient light-emitting diode lighting, drivers and power supplies with efficient light-emitting diode lights, light-emitting diode drivers, and power supplies that are available at comparable prices. Staff analysis shows that about 14 percent of current models already meet the proposed regulations.

The Commission will be meeting on April 26 to finalize and approve the standards. They have already received significant pushback from lobbying interests for technology and computer companies that say that the commission has based the proposal on incorrect assumptions about how much energy these devices use. If approved, the standards would be in place by 2018.

The full proposal is available here.