$80bn wasted on powering electronic devices

Wednesday, 02 July, 2014

The world’s 14 billion online electronic devices, such as set-top boxes, modems, printers and game consoles, waste around US$80 billion each year because of inefficient technology, according to the International Energy Agency.

In 2013, the world’s networked devices consumed around 616 TWh of electricity, the majority of which was used in standby mode. Of that total, around 400 TWh - equivalent to the electricity consumed annually by the United Kingdom and Norway combined - was wasted because of inefficient technology. By 2020, the problem will considerably worsen, with an estimated US$120 billion wasted.

A report by the International Energy Agency explains that much of the problem boils down to inefficient ‘network standby’ - that is, the maintaining of a network connection while in standby. In many devices, standby is a misnomer: it suggests that the device has gone to sleep and is almost off. In reality, most network-enabled devices draw as much power in this mode as when activated to perform their main tasks.

“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 IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.

While data centre energy demand has received much attention, of greater cause for concern is the growing energy demand of billions of networked devices.

In 2013, a relatively small portion of the world’s population relied on these devices to stay connected. But energy demand is increasing as a growing share of the world’s population becomes wired and as network connectivity spreads to devices and appliances that were previously not connected, such as washing machines, refrigerators, lights and thermostats.

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

“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 minimise the cost of meeting demand as the use and benefits of connected devices grows.”

The agency suggests simple measures that can be implemented now to improve energy efficiency in networked devices, resulting in massive savings of energy and money.

“Just by using today’s best available technology, such devices could perform exactly the same tasks in standby while consuming around 65% less power.” The report describes technologies and technical solutions as well as a range of policy options that are available to reduce energy waste. It projects that if better energy-efficiency measures were applied to online devices in the coming years, 600 TWh of energy would be saved. That’s equivalent to shutting 200 standard 500 MW coal-fired power plants, which would cut emissions by 600 million metric tons of CO2.

In the report, the IEA calls on policymakers, standards development organisations, software and hardware developers, designers, service providers and manufacturers to work together to reduce energy demand. To achieve this, the agency urges an international initiative to enhance standards, as the issue is global.

To download More Data, Less Energy: Making Network Standby More Efficient in Billions of Connected Devices, please click here. It is a joint publication between the IEA and the IEA Implementing Agreement for Energy Efficient End-Use Equipment (IEA 4E).

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