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Computer energy use could be cut in half at little cost

Staff Writer |
Electricity use by computers can be cut in half using off-the-shelf technology with no impact on performance, and at negligible cost.

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This is according to a new Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) analysis released.

Also, a broad coalition of groups led by California Delivers urged the California Energy Commission (CEC) to move ahead with a strong version of the nation's first energy efficiency standards for computers and monitors.

The energy and climate stakes are high: Roughly 300 million computers in the U.S. spend from 50 to 77 percent of their time "on but inactive" and devour $10 billion a year worth of electricity.

This is the equivalent of 30-large power plants spewing 65 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution that contributes to climate change, according to the NRDC report.

The NRDC analysis notes: "Using current technology to make all computers and monitors just 30 percent more energy efficient could save U.S. consumers $3 billion annually and avoid the need to generate 29 billion kilowatt hours of electricity each year—more than is consumed by all the households in Indiana, or Los Angeles and Phoenix combined.

It also will keep 20 million metric tons of carbon pollution out of the air, all with zero impact on computer performance or user convenience." The 30 percent energy-reduction target was proposed by the California Energy Commission in March 2016.

NRDC worked with the electronics power management expert firm Aggios and California investor-owned utilities to develop a demonstration prototype computer, and found some efficiency improvements would cost manufacturers "only pennies per computer," according to the report.

Computers, and the monitors connected to them, rank among the biggest energy guzzlers in the electronics category in America's home and businesses. Failing to reduce their energy use has large negative impacts nationally.

Computer and monitor electricity consumption in U.S. homes and businesses is estimated to total 95 billion kilowatt-hours annually, more than the electricity use of all the households in the state of California each year.

When it comes to energy consumption desktop computers are the worst offenders. Typical desktop and monitor consume roughly four times as much energy as the average notebook computer (also commonly referred to as a laptop) and 40 times as much as a tablet.

The prototype computer developed for the analysis used the latest generation Intel i7-6700k CPU, 16 gigabytes of memory, and a 1-terabyte disk, which places it in a relatively high performance category.

One challenge was to find a power supply capable of providing up to 300 watts of power to allow the more-efficient computer to operate at full throttle when needed, while still being relatively energy efficient when idling at 7.7 watts internal, which represents only 2.5 percent of the power supply's maximum power.

The alternate power supply that was developed would cost less than $1 extra for the additional material involved. The overall power consumption of the optimized desktop was 11.4 watts, roughly half of the 22.4 watts of today's typical desktop.

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