CEC Releases Draft Energy Efficiency Computer Standards

March 11, 2015 by Jeff Shepard

The California Energy Commission (CEC) released today proposed energy efficiency standards for computers and monitors that will save consumers hundreds of millions of dollars every year. For desktop computers alone, it is estimated that a $2 increase in manufacturing costs will return $69 to consumers in energy savings over the five-year life of a desktop.

When grouped together, computers and monitors are among the leading users of energy in California, and most sit idle, wasting energy and money while not in use. Although many manufacturers already choose to build relatively efficient models, the Energy Commission has determined significant efficiency improvements can be made—equivalent to the energy consumption of all homes in the cities of San Francisco and Santa Clara combined.

“Computers spend roughly half of their time sitting idle, meaning they are on but not being used,” said Commissioner Andrew McAllister, who is the Energy Commission's lead on energy efficiency. “Last year, a report was issued showing consumers have a strong desire to reduce computer energy use. An energy efficiency standard for computers and monitors is an opportunity to save energy without changing the core functions of the machine.”

The proposed standards are part of a draft staff report. Proposed standards vary by computer type—notebook and desktop computers, workstations, and small-scale servers—and allow the industry flexibility to choose how to comply. Standards for notebooks, small-scale servers, and workstation computers would take effect Jan. 1, 2017. Standards for desktop computers and thin-clients would take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Some highlights of the draft report include the following: A machine’s power management, when it is not in use, will be improved. Standards are estimated to save 2,702 gigawatt hours a year, potentially reducing the utility bills of consumers by $430 million annually. The estimated increase in cost for notebooks, where 73 percent of today’s models already comply with the proposal, is $1 with consumers saving more than $2 in energy costs over four years. Desktop computers, which lag behind notebooks in energy efficiency innovation, offer the largest energy savings opportunity at about $69 in savings over a five-year life for a $2 efficiency upgrade.

In addition to power-saving features, the proposed standards would align test procedures and regulatory framework with existing international and federal ENERGY STAR® specifications. The cost of a computer monitor will increase about $10 but will save consumers more than $26 over a six-year life. This standard would affect monitors manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2017. Computer monitors and signage displays, like those seen in airports for flight schedules, lay out a minimum threshold for the amount of power consumed in “on,” “standby” and “off” modes.

“With roughly as many computers and monitors as people in California, the Energy Commission identified a large amount of energy consumed and the potential for significant savings within this category,” McAllister said.