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PG&E Study Points the Way to More Energy-Efficient Computers

By Jonathan Marshall

study recently commissioned by PG&E’s Emerging Technologies Program suggests that new efficiency standards could slash energy consumption by computers in California by as much as 30 percent — about equal to the output of a mid-sized power plant — while saving customers money.

desktop-computer-and-energy-efficiency

Computers could be made to operate much more efficiently, a PG&E study says.

As part of its ongoing building and appliance standards program — which claims to have saved California consumers $74 billion in reduced electricity bills since 1975 — the California Energy Commission is investigating possible new efficiency standards for computers and other consumer electronics, lighting, water appliances, and various other items like commercial clothes dryers and pool pumps.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the potential reduction in consumption of electricity alone — not counting natural gas or water — “could save Californians a whopping $1.2 billion off their utility bills annually by slashing enough electricity to power every household in Los Angeles.”

Learn more about the California model for energy efficiency

One of the Energy Commission’s key targets is the state’s 40 million computers, which collectively use about 2.5 percent of California’s electricity. In fact, the 10 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity they consume each year is roughly as much as a large nuclear plant generates.

Late last year, PG&E commissioned Ecova, an energy and sustainability management company, to investigate the potential for cost-effective energy savings in standard office and high-end desktop computers.

From a database of thousands of computers, Ecova selected for testing two representative medium-performance computers of the sort typically seen in homes and offices, and two high-end, graphics-intensive units more suitable for gaming. All of them met the Energy Star program’s proposed Version 6.0 Draft 2 standards.

Simply by swapping out more efficient components, like hard drives and power supplies, the Ecova team easily cut energy use of the medium-performance units by 30 percent. In one case, an incremental component cost of $1.50 yielded lifetime energy savings valued at $26.87, a free lunch (or two) if ever there was one.

The investigators achieved similar savings on the high-end computers, but with a slightly less dramatic return on investment.

In short, the PG&E-sponsored report found great opportunities for customers to save money and energy without sacrificing any computing performance. “The magnitude of this opportunity makes a compelling case for developing efficiency programs that provide incentives for more efficient computers and for pursuing mandatory efficiency standards for computers in California,” the report concluded.

Email Jonathan Marshall at jonathan.marshall@pge.com.

This story originally appeared on pgecurrents.com.