(John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are
By John Kemp
LONDON, July 12 The U.S. Department of Energy
wants to establish labelling programmes and minimum energy
efficiency standards for all computers and servers sold in the
In a pair of notices published in the Federal Register on
Friday, the department announced it has "tentatively determined"
that computers and servers should be treated as covered consumer
products under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA).
The notes announced a consultation period for interested
parties to submit written comments, data and information, which
will run until Aug. 12.
After that, if the department makes a final determination,
it will develop rules for the same sort of labelling
requirements and minimum energy efficiency standards that are
already imposed on products such as air conditioners, television
sets and dishwashers under the EnergySTAR programme.
To be listed as a covered product, average annual energy
consumption per household must exceed 100 kilowatt-hours (kWh)
Among other things, the label would disclose the estimated
annual operating cost of the equipment based on its typical
The department could prescribe a compulsory performance
standard, however, if it determines that average household
consumption is more than 150 kWh, total consumption is more than
4.2 billion kWh per year, and a labelling rule would be
insufficient to induce manufacturers to produce and consumers to
buy energy-efficient products.
The performance standard would specify a minimum level of
energy efficiency or a maximum quantity of energy use. The
standards would apply to all computers and servers, whether used
at home or in an office or a server farm.
In effect, designation of computers and servers as covered
consumer products would allow the department to begin
establishing efficiency standards across the computing industry.
Computers currently consume around 30.3 billion kWh in homes
and another 31.3 billion kWh in offices and other commercial
premises, equivalent to around 1.6 percent of all the
electricity consumed in the United States.
The department estimates 104 million households own at least
one computer. If those computers consume a total of 30.3 billion
kWh, that works out at an average of 291 kWh per household per
year - easily exceeding the 150 kWh threshold.
For servers, the department claims aggregate energy use is
already significant and rising as cloud computing becomes more
ubiquitous. Servers are widely used by households for cloud
computing and hosted email services.
Servers consumed at least 26.5 billion kWh in 2010, 0.6
percent of nationwide electricity use, according to the
But the Federal Register notice cites research stating that
annual energy consumption ranges from 1,900-2,100 kWh for volume
servers to 5,400-6,900 kWh for mid-range servers and
66,000-81,000 kWh for high-end servers.
One report, cited by the department, concluded that server
farms, also known as data centres, accounted for as much as 2
percent of all electricity used in the United States in 2010.
Based on minimum consumption of 1,900 kWh for a volume
server, the department estimates average household energy use
for servers is "very likely" to exceed 100 kWh per year. If this
finding is upheld, it would allow the department to prescribe
labelling standards. If consumption is higher, compulsory
efficiency standards could also be imposed.
Data centres consume enormous amounts of power to run
computer equipment and keep it cool. The amount of heat given
off and transferred to the environment through cooling and air
conditioning is enough to create detectable heat islands and
microclimates in the vicinity of some of the largest server
The Department of Energy has already been working with
centre owners and operators to measure, benchmark and improve
efficiency at the big server farms. It has sponsored research
into improved efficiency and cooling through its Advanced
Management Office. (here)
One of its software innovations, Data Centre Pro, helps
managers identify and evaluate energy efficiency opportunities
for new and existing server farms.
Its Data Centre Energy Practitioner programme, developed
with industry, trains and certifies developers and operators in
all aspects of data centre energy management including
information technology, cooling systems, air management and
Centres use so much power they already have sharp financial
incentives to minimise electricity consumption.
There is some evidence server farms are already becoming
Compared with earlier in the decade, "servers in 2010 have
much higher processing power, more memory, faster network
connections and bigger power supplies", according to Stanford
University's Jonathan Koomey. But "they also have power
management and other clever technologies to reduce electricity
consumption". ("Growth in Data Center Electricity Use 2005 to
2010" Aug 2011)
The Department of Energy has worked constructively with data
centre owners and some computer manufacturers. But if computers
and servers are designated as "covered consumer products" under
EPCA, it will have much more power.
The department will be able to work with a wider range of
manufacturers and force them to give much more priority to
While energy efficiency standards may draw some complaints
from manufacturers, they already apply to a wide variety of
appliances and have been widely credited with curbing the growth
of power consumption and helping keep bills low.
(editing by Jane Baird)