Anyone who installs a bathroom faucet, purchases a computer, acquires the latest video game console, enjoys high-speed internet service, and/or is lucky enough to be able to buy a new swimming pool or hot tub could save money on their utility bills if the California Energy Commission sets new energy-saving standards for these and ten other products used in homes and businesses.

Monday (July 29) was the deadline for interested parties to submit standards proposals for a total of fifteen products that cumulatively could save Californians a whopping $1.2 billion annually on energy and conserve as much water as the residents of San Diego use in an entire year.

That’s pretty impressive. The pollution savings are inspiring, too: the Commission’s figures indicate that requiring all these products to use less electricity could alone avoid the need to build three medium-sized, 500-megawatt power plants.  

Instead of having our toilets and urinals flush away savings, and old-technology light bulbs convert most of the energy they use into heat instead of light, these and other products would be improved so they require less energy to do the same or even a better job.

Every Californian would benefit from these new standards directly and/or indirectly. Not only will the standards save money for utility bill payers, but they’ll also help cut the power-plant pollution that endangers children’s health and turbo-charges the increasingly extreme weather events seen in recent years.

For all these reasons, as an active participant in the standards creation and review process, NRDC is among the utilities, manufacturers, and other parties submitting standards proposals for each of the products. The California Energy Commission will review the submissions as it considers whether to establish improved efficiency standards, which could become effective as early as 2015 for the fifteen consumer electronics, lighting, water devices, and “miscellaneous” appliances.

Because these Golden State standards can be implemented more quickly and efficiently than national ones, and because manufacturers don’t want to lose out on the lucrative California market (home to one in eight U.S. residents) -- these standards will effectively set the bar for the nation. 

Take the small network equipment in our homes. Currently, there are no efficiency standards for them. That’s a significant lapse. These broadband modems and Wi-Fi routers are energy hogs, eating up almost 100 kilowatts of electricity annually -- more than a new, energy-efficient 32-inch TV. Most small network equipment today draws the same amount of power when doing nothing as these machines do when transmitting large amounts of data.

Computers present another opportunity for significant savings. In California alone, there are about 40 million of them, using approximately 2.5 percent of the state’s electricity. Desktops and their monitors use four to five times the amount of energy as equivalent laptops, in part because, unlike portable computers, they’ve got constant access to wall sockets so there’s less incentive to design them to conserve. New standards can make them considerably more efficient, and save consumers money as they surf the internet, read email or play games.

On products like toilets, imagine this: California’s 38 million residents use about 27 million of these commodes each year. That’s a lot of flushes. In fact, they account for about 30 percent of California’s residential water use. But there are great savings to be had with new and highly functional water-saving toilets, like the dual-flush models that are increasingly popular.  

 Here’s the breakdown of all the products under consideration:

  • Consumer electronics: Computers, displays (computer monitors, digital picture frames), video game consoles, set-top boxes (such as those used with cable or satellite service), and small networking equipment (like broadband modems and Wi-Fi routers).
  • Lighting: Fluorescent dimming ballasts, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and small diameter lamps like those in track lighting and recessed cans.
  • Water: Faucets, toilets, urinals, and water meters.
  • Miscellaneous: Commercial clothes dryers, air filters, residential pool pumps and motors, and portable electric spas (hot tubs).

The California Energy Commission has a great opportunity to save Californians money on energy and conserve increasingly precious water resources. By implementing standards for all of these products, they’ll send the right signal to manufacturers. 

In the weeks ahead I’ll be taking a closer look at these important products. Among the first will be computers and displays. 


Pierre Delforge is director of high-tech-sector energy efficiency at the Natural Resources Defense Council. This piece was originally published at NRDC's Switchboard blog and was reprinted with permission.