California Mulls Deep Cuts to Tech Energy Use Limits

by | Apr 14, 2016

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CaliforniaGood news for energy managers in California: The state is preparing to radically cut the maximum amount of electricity that can be consumed by computers, monitors and signage.

The new rules likely will have impact beyond California. Driving vendors to hit far higher efficiency targets in the huge market could drive many to adopt the limits nationwide.

Though the regulations are under development and won’t take effect until 2018, they are important enough to be warrant attention today. “I would encourage energy managers to be a part of the process,” said California Energy Commission spokesperson Amber Pasricha Beck. “If they have questions, issues or concerns or agree with the standard, now is the time to submit those comments so we can take a look at the pros and cons to make the goals technically feasible and attainable and don’t result in added cost to consumer over life of product.”

The rules, as they are written now, would more or less cut energy use limits in half: Desktops average energy baseline use of 143.2 kWh per year today would be cut to 65.8 kWh per year. The savings would be significant for notebooks (33.4 kWh/yr to 29.8 kWh/yr), small-scale servers (302 kWh/yr to 278 kWh/yr) and workstations (463.3 kWh/yr to 431.9 kWh/r), according to the staff report on the proposal. Violations, which are judged on a nine-factor basis, can run as high as $2,500 per unit sold.

The amount of energy that will be conserved by the rules is significant. “The proposed standards potentially will save 2,500 gigawatt hours per year and reduce utility costs by more than $400 million annually by 2024,” Pasricha Beck said. “The combined savings – computers, monitors and signage – will be enough electricity to power all the homes in San Francisco for one year.”

Pasricha Beck told Energy Manager Today that the rules could become effective by January 2018. Certain intensive types of advanced graphics engines will get an extra year. The initial report was released on March 30 of last year. A workshop will be held on April 26. In all, the process calls for several workshops and three comments periods on the draft, which will be updated on an ongoing basis.

Pasricha Beck said that the standard isn’t “prescriptive”: The commission is not telling manufacturers how to get to the maximum allowed amount of power. Instead, it is setting limits and letting the companies work it through on their own.

The California drive is to encourage design of subsystems that use less energy. There is a lot that energy managers, working with the IT departments, can do to reduce energy consumption of electronic gear today, however. Tighter management practices — such as ensuring that computers and work stations are turned off when users go home for the day — are best practices. Companies can focus on buying devices that use less energy for workers with more modest computing needs. On board management functions also can extend savings. For instance, configuring the screen to be turned off instead of displaying a screen saver can result in a tremendous amount of savings.

A good deal of attention in the report is paid to various computer modes. The executive summary of the report says that computers that are not being used save conserve energy by running in sleep instead of idle mode. Unfortunately, automatic power management settings often are set to avert sleep mode. The report says that in such cases “computers are still consuming significant amounts of power when not in use ? for example, 50 watts in idle mode compared to 2 watts in sleep mode.”

The importance of the rules could be felt far beyond California. The idea is that the state’s market simply is too big and influential to ignore. Manufacturers also know that California is a bell-weather state: Regulations that take hold there often are adopted wholly or in part in the rest of the country. This all means that it makes sense for manufacturers to simply adopt standards across the board. This often happens, Pasricha Beck said, and is why care is being taken to include technology companies in the process.

The monitor rules do not cover digital picture frames, electronic reader displays and electronic billboards. It will be a big change: Only about 20 percent of the monitors on the market meet the ENERGY STAR 7 standard. The proposed rules are about 30 percent more stringent, the report says.

All the new rules will take effect a year after being promulgated. Manufacturers will be allowed to exhaust non-compliant computing devices that are in their inventory when the new rules take effect, Pasricha Beck said.

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