IEA Says Digital Devices Wasting Billions in Standby Mode

IEA Says Digital Devices Wasting Billions in Standby Mode

The International Energy Administration (IEA) reported in “More Data, Less Energy: Making Network Standby More Efficient in Billions of Connected Devices” that the world’s 14 billion online electronic devices – such as set-top boxes, modems, printers, and game consoles – currently waste about $80 billion per year due to inefficient networks. The administration projects that a rapidly digitizing world that is projected to be wasting $120 billion a year by 2020 could “massively save energy and money” with a “few simple measures.”

The report explains that maintaining a “network standby” does not mean a “device has gone to sleep and is almost off.” Most network-enabled devices currently draw as much power in this mode as when activated to perform their main tasks.

The IEA estimates the electrical demand in 2013 necessary to maintain the world’s networked devices is about 616 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity, the majority of which was used in “standby mode.” The IEA suggests that around 400 TWh, about 65%, of that usage was wasted – the equivalent to the combined annual electrical consumption of the United Kingdom and Norway.

“The problem is not that these devices are often in standby mode, but rather that they typically use much more power than they should to maintain a connection and communicate with the network,” said Ms. Van der Hoeven. “Just by using today’s best available technology,” devices in standby would consume much “less power.”

IEA advises that energy demand is increasing as a growing share of the world’s population becomes wired and as network connectivity for the Internet of Things spreads to devices and appliances that were previously not connected, such as washing machines, refrigerators, lights, and thermostats. IEA estimates that saving 600 TWh of energy would be the equivalent to shutting down 200 standard 500MW coal-fired power plants, which would also cut emissions by 600 million metric tons of CO2.

“The proliferation of connected devices brings many benefits to the world, but right now the cost is far higher than it should be,” said IEA Executive Director Maria Van der Hoeven. She added:

Consumers are losing money in the form of wasted energy, which is leading to more costly power stations and more distribution infrastructure being built than we would otherwise need – not to mention all the extra greenhouse gases that are being emitted. But it need not be this way. If we adopt best available technologies we can minimize the cost of meeting demand as the use and benefits of connected devices grows.

The IEA recommends that policy makers, standards organizations, software and hardware developers, designers, service providers, and manufacturers work together to reduce energy demand. To achieve this efficiency, the agency urges an international initiative to enhance standards.

The author welcomes feedback and will respond to reader comments.
From July 15th to July 29th, Chriss Street will be teaching “Entrepreneurship and Capitalist Business Strategy” at Ho Chi Mihn University in Vietnam.


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