California Set to Adopt Expensive Energy Use Rules for Computers

AP Photo
AP Photo/John Locher
Newport Beach, CA

The California Energy Commission released an updated staff report Friday on its proposals drastically to tighten statewide standards adopted last year to cut electrical use by California’s 25 million computers by 50 percent.

According to the latest analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Agency, commercial facilities consume about half of the 2,743 terawatts (TWh) of annual non-government electrical energy consumption in the United States. Residential televisions consume the most electricity, but commercial transformers, desktops PCs and data centers are now in the top five national users of electricity and comprise the fastest-growing categories.

In June 2015, the California Energy Commission (CEC) set initial energy reduction requirements for computer electronics use. Claiming that “computers and monitors are among the leading users of energy in California, and most sit idle, wasting energy and money while not in use,” the Commission determined that “significant efficiency improvements can be made-equivalent to the energy consumption of all homes in the cities of San Francisco and Santa Clara combined.”

At the time, the CEC estimated that computers and computer monitors in California consume 5,610 gigawatt-hours of power, or about 10 percent of the state’s electrical consumption. They estimated that 7 percent of statewide power was consumed for commercial computers and monitors, about double the 3 percent consumed by residential use.

The CEC estimated that California’s standards, which will be more rigorous than the federal Energy Star 6.1 voluntary standards for desktop computers, would only “add about $14 to the cost of a computer” and “save consumers more than $40” in the five years after they begin taking effect for computers on January 1, 2018 and monitors on January 1, 2019.

Although the computer industry had claimed the costs of the CEC standards adopted in 2015 would be much higher for consumers, they indicated that California’s standards were not that much different than the industry’s business plans had projected.

But the newly proposed CEC standards would require the industry to cut electrical consumption for computers by over half, to 2,702 gigawatt hours a year. Such a change would likely add substantial new costs for consumers and may be technically difficult to achieve under the CEC timetable.

The California Energy Commission has scheduled a workshop for October 10 in Sacramento and will take comments on the proposed standards through October 24.