Standby to waste electricity




, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

A new in-depth report form the International Energy Agency claims that the world's Internet-connected devices are already wasting US$80 billion a year in electricity and the waste is set to get much worse very soon.

That's because from smartphones and tablets to TVs, set-top boxes, printers and games consoles, there are currently 14 billion connected devices either in use or in standby mode around the world but by the end of the decade, this number will have jumped to a massive 50 billion as the connected home goes mainstream and as more and more of us embrace the always-on lifestyle.

This skyrocketing demand could also mean that by 2025, their combined energy use will hit 1140 terawatt hours per year. That's the total amount of energy that Canada and Germany combined currently consume every year. Or 6% of the world's total yearly electricity use.

But as much as two thirds of this massive total of energy use is currently wasted energy because for most of these devices, the lion's share of the power they're consuming is when they're in standby mode, i.e., waiting to be used rather than being in use.

Take set-top boxes, for example. In the U.S. alone in 2010, there were over 160 million of them plugged in and ready to go. They need to be "always on" to be able to respond to network requests -- say access via an app to start recording, or to automatically update firmware or software. As a result, according to the report, theses boxes accounted for an estimated 18 TWh of electricity, that's more than the total annual electricity use of Iceland. Or, to put it another way, $2 billion in electricity bills for their owners.

Minimize the waste

So what can consumers do to stop this waste? The obvious answer is to turn off devices when they're not in use and where re-establishing a network connection wouldn't be an issue -- for example, shut down a computer or turn off the TV when not in use. Likewise, when shopping for new devices, make sure they carry the Energy Star badge that highlights their efficiency.

However, the overriding reason for the devices wasting energy, according to the International Energy Agency, is poor standby technology in many of today's connected devices and it is therefore appealing to manufacturers to adopt more efficient components and with software that will better help to manage power consumption.

If device makers adopt new standards and countries introduce the policies, punishments and rewards needed to implement these changes and to raise consumer awareness, it could result in a 65% cut in energy use by these devices.