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FEATURE – Powering down to save energy need not be a turn-off

February 13, 2013 - In 1999, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says it spearheaded the ‘1-Watt’ initiative, which led to the average new television’s standby consumption falling from about 5W to half a watt, saving energy for countries and money for consumers.


February 13, 2013
By Anthony Capkun

According to IEA, after manufacturers developed ‘instant-on’ televisions in the late 1960s, the trend toward standby defaults in consumer electronics spread; soon, ‘inactive’ machines were drawing 10% of total residential electricity consumption. Even as the number of such devices mushroomed, though, new low-power technologies reduced the share of the electricity used in standby modes.

But the development of ‘smart’ appliances and other devices that connect to the internet has created a new challenge.

As homes are becoming increasingly digital, energy consumption is increasing. Now come smart appliances that hook into the internet or are otherwise linked to a network, with as many as 100 billion expected in homes worldwide by 2020. Because they are part of a network, they need to stay ‘live’ to receive and transmit data, so they cannot be easily powered down to save energy. Instead new technological solutions are needed to reduce their non-stop appetite for electricity, says IEA.

Similarly, cutting-edge appliances, from refrigerators to security systems, hook into networks that link a succession of machines to transmit everything from power consumption to grocery orders. As their network presence requires them to stay active, many networked appliances do not power down to lower energy-consuming modes. As more appliances are networked, current low-consumption machines will revert to high standby consumption, IEA warns.

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Consumption related to information communication technology (ICT) is already more than 5% of total final global electricity consumption, says IEA, adding this figure could double by 2022, and be three times the 2010 rate by 2030.

To combat energy losses, IEA released its voluntary “Guiding Principles of Energy Efficiency in Networked Products” in 2007, and will publish new policy guidance for governments and other stakeholders in 2013. Meantime, Energy Star is starting to include provisions to measure and monitor networked standby modes in televisions and displays, says IEA, while the European Union has introduced a Code of Conduct on Energy Efficiency of Broadband Equipment, and is currently amending regulations to include provisions to ensure that network-connected projects include power management features, and that networked standby power consumption is reduced.

As more products are networked and numbers of net-enabled services and applications increase, the quantity of information that is transferred and stored is growing at a rapid rate. This has created yet another energy challenge, says IEA: the growing global energy consumption of data centres. In 2010, such facilities used as much as 1.5% of electricity worldwide, with annual consumption growth for centres and networks expected to be 12%. Because customers expect immediate responses at each click of a mouse, technology companies maintain they cannot regularly shift inactive servers at their data centres to low-power standby mode, which means that as much as 90% of the electricity drawn by data centres powers inactive devices.

With so many players involved, and such rapid development of digital systems, addressing network standby is proving to be one of the most challenging areas in energy efficiency, IEA concludes.