Computer usage and national energy consumption: Results from a field-metering study

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The electricity consumption of miscellaneous electronic loads (MELs) in the home has grown in recent years, and is expected to continue rising. Consumer electronics, in particular, are characterized by swift technological innovation, with varying impacts on energy use. Desktop and laptop computers make up a significant share of MELs' electricity consumption, but their national energy use is difficult to estimate, given uncertainties around shifting user behavior. This report analyzes usage data from 64 computers (45 desktop, 11 laptop, and 8 unknown) collected in 2012 as part of a larger field monitoring effort of 880 households in the San Francisco Bay Area, and compares our results to recent values from the literature. We find that desktop computers are used for an average of 7.3 hours per day (median = 4.2 h/d), while laptops are used for a mean 4.8 hours per day (median = 2.1 h/d). The results for laptops are likely underestimated since they can be charged in other, unmetered outlets. Average unit annual energy consumption (AEC) for desktops is estimated to be 194 kWh/yr (median = 125 kWh/yr), and for laptops 75 kWh/yr (median = 31 kWh/yr). We estimate national annual energy consumption for desktop computers to be 20 TWh. National annual energy use for laptops is estimated to be 11 TWh, markedly higher than previous estimates, likely reflective of laptops drawing more power in On mode in addition to greater market penetration. This result for laptops, however, carries relatively higher uncertainty compared to desktops. Different study methodologies and definitions, changing usage patterns, and uncertainty about how consumers use computers must be considered when interpreting our results with respect to existing analyses. Finally, as energy consumption in On mode is predominant, we outline several energy savings opportunities: improved power management (defaulting to low-power modes after periods of inactivity as well as power scaling), matching the rated power of power supplies to computing needs, and improving the efficiency of individual components.

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