California energy standard could cut PC power use by a third

The state's Energy Commission wants dramatically more efficient home computers by 2019.

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Computers aren't the power hogs they used to be, but California's Energy Commission believes the industry can do better. It just revealed the likely final version of standards that would reduce PC and monitor energy use in the state, and likely the rest of the US by extension. By requiring technology that reduces idle power draw (like more efficient power supplies), the Commission estimates that it could cut about 1,636 gigawatt-hours of electricity use per year in California, or just under a third of the state's PC energy consumption.

The initial standards for most new computers would kick in January 1st, 2019, while a stricter second phase would come into play on July 1st, 2021. Small servers and workstations would have to fall in line on January 1st, 2018, but many of them already meet comparable Energy Star guidelines. Want to have your say? If you'd like to influence the final vote, you can make comments through October 24th.

Yes, the price of your next PC could go up as a result. However, the CEC bets that you'll more than recoup that cost if you keep your system for long enough. A desktop would typically cost $14 more, but you'd save $40 on your energy bill over the course of five years. And the differences for laptops (which are already more efficient) would be modest -- you'd spend about $1 more, but save $2. The biggest savings may come for work PCs, which could cost $13 more, but offer $20 to $30.

It's hard to say if California will save as much electricity as promised, but it's unlikely to face significant opposition given an emphasis on cooperation and realistic goals. The Commission worked with industry giants like AMD and NVIDIA, for instance. Either way, it won't be shocking if your future hardware is considerably more eco-friendly.