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On Wednesday California’s Energy Commission (CEC) announced that it would adopt new energy efficiency rules for computers and monitors sold in the state, requiring computers to sip less power when they’re not being used and requiring monitors to be built using high-efficiency screen technology.

In all, the CEC estimates that Californians will save an average of 2,332 GWh per year (PDF) after these new rules are fully implemented in 2019. But the rules could have a much wider impact on the US. California is a massive market for technology, with an estimated 25 million computer monitors, 21 million desktop computers, and 23 million notebooks currently being used in the state. In many cases, a manufacturer will find it more economical to meet California’s standards for all products it sells in the US than to create an energy efficient version of its products for California and an less-energy-efficient version of its products for the rest of the US.
According to the CEC, the standards for desktop computers set an “energy use target” that manufacturers must meet depending on what technology can be found in the unit. “The targets center on the performance in idle, sleep and off modes and do not set a limit for active mode,” the CEC writes. A first tier of the standards for computers must be met by January 1, 2019, and then a second, more stringent version of the standards must be met by July 1, 2021. The energy commission estimates that these new standards will add $10 to the cost of desktop computers on average, but will save the owner $40 in electricity bills over five years.
For monitors, manufacturers must meet or consume less than a target amount of power in on, sleep, and off modes by 2019.
The CEC notes that many of the laptops on the market already meet the energy efficiency standards, and the rules governing notebooks will merely “require improvements to the worst performers.”
Workstation computers and small-scale servers are also subject to California’s new rules. For those products, “the standards require a more efficient power supply and energy efficient Ethernet,” the CEC wrote.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other environmental groups worked with the CEC to craft the standards over the previous four years. The five-person energy commission gave final approval for the standards on Wednesday.
In a blog post, the NRDC said the new standards would reduce the amount of power consumed by the covered products in California by one-third. It also noted that while 73 percent of laptops currently meet the new standards, only 14 percent of monitors, and less than 10 percent of desktop computers sold in California currently meet the standards, so there will inevitably be some stretching involved for some manufacturers.
Despite the more stringent rules, the Information Technology Industry Council—which includes HP, Intel, Dell, and Lenovo among many others—supported the CEC’s new rules. “The tech industry’s support for these historic guidelines follows a collective effort by the CEC with technology companies and environmental leaders to achieve the highest energy efficiency standards that will save consumers money without stifling innovation or the economic growth being driven by the tech sector,” the council wrote in a press release.
The NRDC has been active in pursuing more-stringent power use standards for technology. In September, it released a report based on third-party testing showing that many major TV manufacturers including Samsung, LG, and Vizio built their TVs to pass the Department of Energy’s very limited energy-use tests. When the TVs were used outside of a few select modes, they consumed much more energy than reflected on their yellow EnergyGuide labels.
Listing image by Flickr / State Farm

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