How energy-efficient computers can save money and help save the planet

Students at Ceres High School in Stanislaus County get hands-on training in the design and assembly of desktop computers.
Students at Ceres High School in Stanislaus County get hands-on training in the design and assembly of desktop computers.

Leaders recognize real leadership when they see it. That’s why the Bay Area’s top technology companies are supporting the state’s first-in-the-nation energy efficiency standards for desktop computers and monitors, which the California Energy Commission is to vote on Wednesday.

Energy efficiency is key to businesses’ bottom line and helps our state meet its climate change and air pollution goals. California’s pioneering computer efficiency standards are designed to address the fact that most of the time that desktop computers and monitors are switched on, they are not actually in use but still keep drawing power. The standards are designed to cut desktop computer energy use in half without hurting performance, saving Californians an estimated $373 million in electric bills each year.

At the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, we represent more than 400 companies with one in three private-sector jobs in Silicon Valley. Many of these businesses use enormous amounts of energy. Others provide energy-efficiency consulting and solutions. All of them know that efficiency standards help cut waste, lower power bills and trim operating costs.

And it’s not just business that benefits. Families, schools, government offices and other users can look forward to lower power bills, as well.

Computers and monitors are responsible for more than 7 percent of the electricity consumption in the commercial sector, and 3 percent of household energy use. And while computers and other electronic devices have become ever more important in our lives, their power use has been growing, too. Between 2000 and 2013, electricity used by computers, game consoles and network devices rose 500 percent in the U.S., according to the Consumer Federation of America.

The new computer efficiency rules will rein in desktop energy use, while establishing clear goals and a level playing field for tech companies. Of course, no business is eager to be regulated. But in this case, desktop computer and monitor manufacturers bought into the process and worked hard to make it succeed. They participated in technical discussions with Energy Commission staff, and collaborated with the commission on ambitious standards that also reflect technical realities.

California’s leadership is especially important now, at a time when energy policies on the national level are under the scrutiny of a new incoming administration. No matter what happens in Washington, D.C., the state will continue to set sensible standards to spur innovation and help keep American manufacturers competitive around the world.

Tim McRae is senior energy director at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. He can be contacted at