There are more than 2 billion devices such as TVs, computers, ceiling fans, elevators, ice-makers and MRI machines commonly found in US homes and businesses that consume $70 billion in energy each year, more than many large countries use to power their entire economies, says a report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). But the devices can be made more energy efficient, in much the same way that programs to improve building energy systems found huge energy savings, ACEEE says.
In its report, Miscellaneous Energy Loads in Buildings, ACEEE classifies the household devices and commercial equipment that don’t fall within the traditional energy categories of HVAC, lighting and refrigeration as miscellaneous energy loads or MELs that use 7.8 quadrillion Btus each year – which is more than the primary energy use of Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.
The devices could be made to use 40 percent to 50 percent less energy with existing technology, according to the report’s lead author, Sameer Kwatra. But because of the diverse mix of devices and equipment within MELs, attempts to increase their energy efficiency have varied, with some products having very little or no efficiency measures in place.
While some of the devices, like ceiling fans and ice makers, are covered by federal energy efficiency standards, and others like TVs and computer monitors are covered under voluntary efficiency specifications like Energy Star, many more products in the MEL category continue to waste energy, ACEEE says. The rapid evolution of technology is one of the barriers to setting energy efficiency standards, the report says, because there are new models of TVs, computers, set-top boxes and video game consoles every year, making it hard for agencies to choose what to incentivize.
However, interest in improving standards is now running high. Earlier in the week President Obama identified energy efficiency standards as a top priority in his plan to tackle the growing threat of climate change. The ACEEE says equipment like elevators and escalators, and medical devices like MRIs and CT scanners, present a huge energy savings opportunity.
Besides establishing standards, the report recommends encouraging manufacturers to upgrade their products so that the best-performing ones now on the market become common. Utilities and other program administrators can also include MELs in their energy efficiency portfolios, and they can develop initiatives to raise awareness and modify consumption habits.
Information Technology (IT) devices consume more than 25 percent of the energy in most buildings, according to Energy Star’s “Fast Facts on Energy Use.” Within the IT devices bucket, PCs are the biggest draws on plug loads.
And of the 25 percent of commercial electricity in the US attributed to IT devices, about 15 percent of that is due to printers, says Verdiem, which makes products to reduce these loads. Typical network printers draw significant energy when printing a page – about 700 watts. In addition, 10 percent of industrial energy consumption goes to making paper.