Mandatory PC energy standards proposed

EECA begins consulting IT industry on efficiency standards for hardware

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority has begun the formal process of engaging industry on energy-saving standards for personal computer equipment, with a discussion document that suggests mandatory standards that would shut out computers judged inefficient from being imported into or manufactured in New Zealand.

Computerworld reported hints of such a move last month.

The proposed regime would cover tablet computers as well as desktops, laptops and netbooks and could apply from as early as October next year. "some small scale servers would be required to meet regulatory targets in the idle and off modes," the document says, but servers in general are not covered.

Fortunately for importers, the standard proposed will be based on the US government's Energy Star standard. Computers purchased by US government agencies already have to comply with this standard and since the government is such a large sector of the market, US-made computers have complied with successive versions of the standard "within a year or two" of the standard being issued, EECA's discussion document says.

Additional energy allowances are written into the standard for discrete graphics, television and audio cards in special purpose computers. Regular computers are put into one of four categories, allowing powerful multi-core machines to consume more energy and still be compliant.

As the number of computers in the country grows, their total energy consumption is mounting, EECA says. "Electricity consumption from home computers and monitors accounted for an estimated 364 GWh in 2010 or 3 percent of residential electricity use.

"Office ICT used around 988 GWh or 11 percent of all commercial electricity use. Together, this represents 3 percent of the total electricity demand in 2010."

Testing a number of computers by Australia's Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency has uncovered wide variances between best and worst performers in power consumption, the report says. The best small desktop had a consumption of 17.6 watts and the worst 99 watts - more than five-and-a-half times as much. The best of the largest class of desktops consumed 67.9 watts and the worst 162.8 - a multiplier of 2.4.

The worst of the powerful notebooks consumed 37.4 watts and the best 9.8, so there is considerable room for improvement, EECA argues. One significant factor is the presence or absence of an automatic power-management tool in the computer which would switch off components when not in use.

Under a do-nothing option, manufacturers would overall still reduce consumption owing to improved technology, but the saving would still be "lower than is readily and cost effectively achievable".

A voluntary scheme, with labelling to assist the buyer in making a decision, would fail, EECA suggests. "The tendency under a voluntary scheme would be for only the better-performing products to be labelled, meaning that there would be no basis for consumers to compare between poor and average performance."

A mandatory scheme therefore emerges as likely to be most effective and cost-effective, the report says.

Australian and NZ standards will be aligned as far as possible, says EECA "to reduce business compliance costs and the cost to the taxpayer of programme administration"

The report has been sent to a number of New Zealand computer distributors and local offices of multinationals like HP, as well as to organisations such as HCC Pacific, concerned with the disposal of computers. Many of these companies have been involved in discussions already, says EECA. The deadline for response is November 15.

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