EECA mulls energy-wasting PC import ban

Energy-efficiency authority looks at prohibiting inefficient devices under new regulations

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority is considering new import regulations that will exclude computer equipment that does not meet appropriate energy-use standards.

During the launch of the government’s energy strategy in Parliament on August 30, EECA chief executive Mike Underhill suggested that since the introduction of energy consumption standards for whiteware and other domestic appliances, “more than half-a-billion dollars of savings have been made from buying products more sensibly.

“We’ve stopped the worst-performing products coming into the country by having a minimum energy performance standard,” he says. “This is going to continue with increased focus.”

Asked specifically about ICT equipment, Underhill says the savings to be made are “huge”. Many users, at home and in the office, do not turn their PCs off overnight and many do not properly set the energy-saving controls provided by the manufacturer, to put the machine into a low-consumption mode when it is not doing active work – if such controls are provided at all.

The savings on a PC might not seem like much compared with servers, which, he agrees, are likely to need to run 24 hours a day. “But how many PCs do you suppose there are in New Zealand? About two million?” Multiplying the small energy saving by a large number, he says, will produce a larger saving.

EECA products manager Terry Collins elaborates. “These standards we’re looking at [proposing] are based on an Energy Star test devised in the US,” he says. “We recently did a mapping exercise around the Asia-Pacific area. For all the products that we have standards for, computers are the one where [devices in different countries] are pretty much aligned to the same test standards.”

There are two areas of focus, he says. “On monitors there may be labels indicating how much power they use. And with computers there’ll be controls over how much energy they use on standby – when they’re not in use but [still] connected.

“We recently brought in regulations for the power supplies, that limit the amount of wattage they can actually [consume] on the job,” he says. These were introduced in June this year.

“For the [energy-saving modifications] that have to be made you get about four times the savings,” Collins claims. “For every buck extra the manufacturer has to spend to make [energy-saving modifications], the consumer gets about $3-$4-worth of energy savings.” So standards work to the customer’s benefit, and it is misleading to see them as a restriction, he says.

Asked whether any such conditions would still sit awkwardly in a price-competitive industry, Collins replies that the manufacturers and importers will be helping specify the standards.

“The people who make the standards for fridges are the Fisher & Paykels of the world and it will be the same for computers; we don’t say ‘we’re the government; we know it all’. We talk with representatives of the computing industry, who set realistic standards; we’ve got to convey to them where our expectations on energy are; they talk to us about where they are in their technology development. And we can set realistic timescales for doing it.”

He expects standards to be promulgated by around October 2012.

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