February 8, 2007 4:00 AM PST
New Energy Star ratings for PCs on the way
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A similar problem is derailing progress on an Energy Star program for a component that puts even more of a strain on the electrical grid. Servers are huge drains on electrical resources: not just because of their own power requirements, but due to the sophisticated cooling equipment needed to keep servers running. Many businesses have reported that they are prevented from adding new servers because they can no longer afford the electricity.
Servers currently are not part of the Energy Star program because the industry can not agree on a metric, but testing is being done to measure the various levels of energy efficiency across different products, Abelson said. Congress has also passed a resolution calling for more energy-efficient servers and requiring the EPA to conduct a study on energy-efficient servers.
A simple step to save energy
Want to do something simple to reduce your PC's electrical consumption? Turn off the flying toasters.
Screensavers are a relic of days past, and they actually force a PC to use more power than if consumers just let their machine sit idle, says Noah Horowitz of the National Defense Resources Council. Back in the olden days, screensavers were recommended to guard against "burn-in" of images that sat undisturbed on a screen for too long.
Modern displays, however, have largely eliminated the burn-in problem for PC users, Horowitz said. So turn off that screensaver: you could save as much as $50 a year on your electric bill by implementing power management technology on your PC and ditching that digital aquarium.
In the near term, however, Energy Star will come up with a tier-2 specification for PCs that will set additional standards for computers that don't make the top-tier standards. Also, it's working on a specification for flat-screen televisions, one of the biggest causes of electricity sticker shock in the modern home.
Depending on the model, a 42-inch flat-screen TV consumes between 100 to 250 watts when turned on. Assuming it's on five hours a day, that's something like 200 to 470 kWh/year, or about $500 over a 10-year lifespan, depending on where you live, Horowitz said.
Just like with PCs, the specification for televisions is woefully outdated: it was created to measure the energy consumption of black-and-white television. But environmental advocates hope to catch the flat-screen television industry much earlier than the PC industry and develop a specification that measures how much power a TV uses when it's on, Horowitz said.
This is still a somewhat contentious process--different amounts of electricity are required to show Japanese animation than, say, Grey's Anatomy--but Horowitz is confident that the industry will agree on a metric.
While business and government customers are sure to save money by implementing thousands of energy-efficient PCs across their networks, the benefits to individual consumers are a little harder to explain, said Stephen Baker, an analyst with The NPD Group. But programs like Energy Star appeal to consumers because they don't have to do anything to feel like they are helping the environment, he said.
"You're not asking them to pay 20 bucks for recycling or not throw their PCs in the trash," Baker said. "It gives them an opportunity to feel like they are doing good."
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