Rising power demand from "smart" TVs, game consoles and other network-connected devices are driving up global electricity consumption, leading to calls for greater regulation of the booming electronics industry.
Such devices consumed more than 600 terawatt hours of electricity worldwide in 2013, equivalent to the output of 200 medium-size coal-fired power plants and three times more than they would need if their manufacturers used best-available energy-saving technology, the International Energy Agency said in a report released Wednesday.
Electricity use from such electronics is climbing at a rate of 6 per cent per year, twice the increase in overall global power consumption, the Paris-based agency said.
"The proliferation of connected devices brings many benefits to the world, but right now the cost is far higher than it should be," IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven said on a conference call.
"Consumers are losing money in the form of wasted energy, which is leading to more costly power stations and more distribution infrastructure being built than we would otherwise need – not to mention all the extra greenhouse gases that are being emitted. But it need not be this way. If we adopt best-available technologies we can minimize the cost of meeting demand as the use and benefits of connected devices grows."
The devices, from smart TVs to set-top boxes to modems, consume power whether they are on or not, as they use power to remain connected to networks and to maintain standby mode that allow instant access when they are turned on.
Officials at Natural Resources Canada are working with counterparts in Europe and the United States to decide whether to impose mandatory standards or adopt a voluntary approach that would encourage manufacturers to adopt the most energy-efficient technology for network-connected devices.The department currently offers a consumers' guide to equipment that relies on standby power, noting such electricity use can account for up to 10 per cent of a household power bill. Under the government's voluntary Energy Star program, electronics should not use more than one watt in standby mode. The department also encourages consumers to use power bars, and turn off the devices when they are not in use.
"Government has a responsibility to promote efficient energy use," said Chris McCluskey, a spokesman for Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford. He noted that, in 2011, the IEA ranked Canada second for its rate of energy efficiency improvement.
The Conservative government has introduced new standards for televisions, video equipment and audio devices that enhance conservation of power while in off mode. As a result of these new standards, officials estimate that televisions now draw one watt instead of four watts when not turned on.
"We'll continue our important work with industry to introduce new standards and help Canadians save on their power bills," he said.
Without better standards to reduce usage from network-connected devices, utilities around the world will have to add more generating capacity, the IEA said. By 2020, it expects such devices to consume nearly 1,200 terawatt hours, more than the current electricity consumption of Canada and Germany combined. That figure could be cut by two-thirds if best-available technology was adopted.
"We're seeing more and more interest from utilities and regulators," said Tania Donovska, a project manager with the CSA Group, a non-profit, standards-development association. "Everybody wants to have everything at the palm of their hands, and different devices can have different energy requirements for the same function."
Ms. Donovska said governments appear to be leaning to voluntary standards, though regulations are being formulated to standardize testing of equipment.
The performance of network-connected devices will be increasingly important with the development of the "Internet of Things," in which non-human "users' will communicate to one another through the web and remain connected even when not in active use. An X-Box, for example, uses nearly as much power when it is on standby mode as it does when it is in use.
"It's very timely for the IEA to put out this report now," said Francis Bradley, vice-president of the Canadian Electricity Association. "As we move into the era of the Internet of Things, we are going to have more and more devices that rely on standby power. And the more we have a codes and standards to deal with them, the better off we're going to be."