IEA calls for action to cut $80 billion online energy drain

iPhone desktop [doug belshaw/flickr]

Rapid policy moves are needed to curb energy wastage from electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets and game consoles, which in 2013 cost $80 Billion (€53 billion), says a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

By the end of the decade, the sum lost due to inefficient product design is expected to swell to around $120 billion (€88 billion).

Around 14 billion electronic devices are currently used by a small proportion of the world’s population, but that number could rocket to 500 billion in 2050, causing ‘alarming’ increases in energy demand and waste, the study ‘More data, Less energy’ warns.  

“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,” said the IEA’s executive director Maria van der Hoeven.

“But it need not be this way,” she added. “If we adopt best available technologies, we can minimise the cost of meeting demand as the use and benefits of connected devices grows.”

Products such as set-top boxes, modems and printers often use as much power when on ‘network standby’ as they do in power mode. In 2013, such devices collectively gobbled up 613 TeraWatt hours (TWh) of electricity, more than Canada’s entire electricity consumption that year.

Studies show that 80% of energy demand from games consoles is used just to maintain network connection and 65% of this figure could be cut by implementing best available technologies.

“In the absence of strong market drivers to optimise the energy performance of these devices, policy intervention is needed,” says the IEA paper, which urges an international initiative to lift standards.

The agency, considered the pre-eminent analyst of economic information says that the problem is greater even than that from data centre energy demand, which has received more attention.

‘More data, Less energy’ says that with more efficient technologies and technical solutions the digital sector could save the equivalent CO2 output of 200 standard 500MW coal-fired power plants, and cut carbon emissions by 600 million metric tonnes.

The IEA paper was published the day after new EU standards came into force obliging all new computers on the European market to comply with Ecodesign efficiency standards.

The new rules will affect around 70 million units and computer servers sold on the continent each year, saving around 12.5 TWh annually by 2020, as much as the yearly output from 2.5 million cars.

“Product by product, the rewards add up to massive benefits in fuel bill savings, energy independence and greater climate stability,” said Stamatis Sivitos, a spokesman for the environmental campaigning group Coolproducts.

The EU is currently considering a review of its Ecodesign and Energy Labelling directives, which may recommend new measures. Observers expect it to be published in November.

The European Union's Ecodesign Directive introduces a framework to set mandatory ecological requirements for energy-using and energy-related products sold in the 27 member states.

Currently the scope covers more than 40 product groups, including boilers, lightbulbs and fridges that are responsible for 40% of the EU greenhouse gas emissions.

The aim of the directive is that manufactures of the energy-using products should, at the design stage, be obliged to reduce the energy consumption and other environmental impacts of products.

  • November 2014: Commission expected to publish review of Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Directives

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