Energy wastage for online devices such as modems, set-top boxes, printers and games consoles totalled $80bn (£46.4bn) in 2013, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), and this is predicted to rise to $120bn by 2020.
The Paris-based organisation said in a new report that the problem centres on the inefficient practice of maintaining a network connection while not in use. Known as “network standby”, this uses almost as much power as when the device is in use.
The IEA calculates that in 2013, the world’s 14 billion networked devices consumed about 616 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity, the majority of which was used in standby mode.
Of that total, about 400TWh – equivalent to the electricity consumed annually by the UK and Norway combined – was wasted because of inefficient technology.
The IEA notes that energy use in data centres has rightly received a lot of attention and innovation, but the energy demand of networked devices is expected to skyrocket as the technology spreads to more of the world, and network connectivity spreads to previously “dumb” appliances, such as washing machines, refrigerators, lights and thermostats. Ironically, these appliances may have been connected to reduce energy bills by switching on when the electricity price is lowest.
Games consoles were also highlighted in a report last week by the US Consumer Electronics Association as having the potential to reverse a long-term downwards trend of domestic energy consumption.
The IEA report finds that applying better energy efficiency measures to online devices in the coming years could save 600TWh of energy – equivalent to shutting 200 standard 500MW coal-fired power plants – and cut CO2 emissions by 600 million metric tons.
It calls on policy makers, standards development organisations, software and hardware developers, designers, service providers and manufacturers to work together to reduce energy demand by creating an international initiative to improve efficiency standards.
Maria van der Hoeven, IEA executive director, said the current cost of connected devices is “far higher” than it should be, losing consumers money and forcing governments to build costly power stations and infrastructure with a huge carbon impact.
“But it need not be this way,” she added. “If we adopt best-available technologies, we can minimise the cost of meeting demand as the use and benefits of connected devices grow. Just by using today’s best-available technology, such devices could perform exactly the same tasks in standby while consuming around 65 percent less power.”
The report comes amid new laws forcing hardware firms to ensure new devices adhere to stricter power usage levels, which were introduced on 1 July.