California Energy Commission Takes a Big Step on Computers

September 12, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

Computer energy manageComputers are ubiquitous and it makes good sense to reduce their energy consumption and the noxious emissions they generate. It’s not surprising that California is the leading state in trying to rein in the amount of electricity that these devices consume.

The California Energy Commissions has been on the case for a long time. Late last week, it took a big and almost final step: It released the final staff report before the commission will vote on the proposed rules. That move is expected by the end of the year. If enacted, the savings of almost $400 million annually.

If they are approved, the new regulations will take effect in two phases – January 1, 2019 and July 1, 2021. These are referred to by the CEC as tiers. They deal independently with monitors and computers. The Engadet story on the final report suggests that no big changes are likely before implementation:

It’s hard to say if California will save as much electricity as promised, but it’s unlikely to face significant opposition given an emphasis on cooperation and realistic goals. The Commission worked with industry giants like AMD and NVIDIA, for instance. Either way, it won’t be shocking if your future hardware is considerably more eco-friendly.

The increased efficiency and financial savings are different for each class of device. Desktop computers, which most likely represent the lion’s share of devices that will be impacted, provides a good example. The baseline – the annual consumption today – is 133.7 kWh, according to the CEC. A compliant tier 1 PC will reduce that to 103.3 kWh annually. This equates to a savings of 152 kWh during the five year lifecycle of the device. Assuming a per kWh cost of $.16, the savings $24.32 per desk top. The incremental cost of the changes is projected to be $9.55. Thus, the net benefit over the five years is $14.77.

Tier 2 adds more reductions. Using the same baseline, average annual energy use will be cut to 84.6 kWh. Lifecycle savings will be 245.5 kWh per year. The life cycle cost savings, again measured against kWh cost of $.16, will be $39.28. Devices’ incremental cost will be $14. This leads to a net benefit of $25.28, the CEC report says.

Savings along the same lines will be realized during both tiers by other types of computers, their monitors and electronic signage, which also is covered by the proposed standards. In all, the CEC says that the new rules eventually will save $373 million annually. The new rules also reportedly will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 700,000 annually, according Natural Resources Defense Council estimates reported by VentureBeat.

Though the per-device savings do not appear to be dramatic — $15 per savings per year per desktop does not appear to be earth shattering, for instance — the overall savings becomes far more impressive when it is multiplied when thought of within the context of the amount of electronic devices used across the huge state. In California, the CEC says, computers and computer monitors use about 5,610 gigawatt hours annually. This equates to about 3 percent of residential and 7 percent of commercial energy use.

California has a huge influence because of its size. Simply, computer and related ecosystem manufacturers required to comply with these rules are likely to opt to implement them across the board. What is the point of maintaining two ways of building a device, especially considering that the other states more likely than not will follow suit and adopt standards similar or identical to those in the Golden State?

Clearly, what is going on in California is the most important step in increasing energy efficiency for computers and computer monitors. In general, however, the computer industry has been curbing the use of energy by equipment for years as technology evolved and the imperative of cutting energy use grew. The California rules are a big step in pushing the ball forward.

One comment on “California Energy Commission Takes a Big Step on Computers

  1. I am so glad that California is part of the union. It had been the leader in many energy and environmental issues over the years and we are all better for it.

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