California Considers Energy-Saving Rules for Computers

computer power energy

On September 9, California regulators took a step toward becoming the first U.S. state to require energy efficiency standards for computers and monitors, which account for 3% of home electric bills and 7% of commercial power costs in the state. [1]

The California Energy Commission released a report, its final one, claiming the proposed standards could save consumers $373 million annually. The projected energy savings under the plan equal the electricity used each year by all the homes in San Francisco.

How This Will Save Energy

This proposal is the last of three and opens up a 45-day comment period before the standards can be formally adopted, which the commission hopes to accomplish by the end of 2016. [2]

The first phase of the rules would take effect in January 2018 for work stations and small-scale servers. In January 2019, they would apply to desktop and notebook computers. Then, in July 2019, the rules would affect computer monitors with screens 17 inches and larger. [1]

Under the rules, desktops will be required to reduce power draw by half when they idle. Notebooks and laptops are already more efficient because they’re designed to economize battery power, so the rules will be less stringent for them. [3]

Fewer desktop computers are sold these days, but they still represent about 1/3 of sales, and account for more than 2/3 of computer energy use. Much of that electricity is wasted when the computer is not in active use. Researchers have found that office desktops sit idle 61% of the time they’re on, but still draw power from the grid.

These larger models use nearly four times as much power as a typical laptop or notebook, and 40 times as much as a tablet.

There would be a small additional cost to consumers – about $14 for desktops – but would save consumers around $40 over 5 years, the commission estimates.

Supporters of the proposal say computers should have been subjected to state or federal efficiency standards like many other products long ago. Such standards already exist for computers in the European Union (EU), China, and Australia.

Who Will Benefit?

The new California standards are expected to most benefit low-income households, which spend a disproportionate share of their income on energy.

Businesses will also reap the benefits, as they use the majority of desktops in the state.

The rules will most certainly change the way computers across the U.S. are sold, and if these standards were to be adopted on a national scale, U.S. consumers would stand to save about $2.2 billion annually on their electricity bills.

But the environmental impact would be the biggest payoff. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the environmental group collaborating with the commission on the standards, the rules would cut greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion in power generation by 700,000 tons a year.

Twenty kilowatt hours of electricity would be saved – equivalent to the output of seven coal-fired power plants – and carbon pollution would be lowered by 14 million metric tons a year.


[1] Reuters

[2] National Resources Defense Council