CBS Newsletter
Winter 1997

Aerial view of Washington D.C.

News From the D.C. Office

Efficient Office Equipment: Update and a Look Ahead

This is an extended version of the article that appeared in the paper edition of the Center for Building Science News. Back to short version of this article.

We are now well aware of the large amount of energy consumed by "plug-in loads" such as personal computers and other office electronics. Office equipment is often cited as the fastest-growing end-use of electricity in the fastest-growing sector of demand (commercial buildings). According to Dataquest figures, world growth of PCs will average 14 to 15 percent per year through 1999. Only ten years ago, office equipment was not even part of the "map" of non-residential energy end-uses. There were virtually no data on office equipment energy use, nor an awareness of the substantial energy savings available-primarily through automatic switching to a low-power "sleep" mode whenever equipment is connected but not in use.

Today, the situation is dramatically different, thanks in part to a decade of research by staff in the Center for Building Science's Energy Analysis Program. Office equipment is now a widely recognized and well-documented end-use in the commercial sector. Important energy efficiency programs in the U.S. and other countries, notably the ENERGY STAR® label sponsored by the US Environmental Protection Agency, focus attention on this sector. Efforts of this type are now appearing in Japan and Europe. ENERGY STAR promotes the purchase of computers, monitors, printers, copiers and faxes that automatically switch to a low- power mode (generally 30 W or less) after a pre-set period of inactivity.

In the past few years, at least a dozen conferences and workshops in the U.S., Canada and Europe have helped educate energy analysts, utility program managers and policymakers about the energy use and efficiency of office equipment. A meeting held in Stockholm in September 1996, was organized by Sweden's NUTEK and cosponsored by the European Commission. Participants in the International Seminar on Energy-Efficient Office Equipment and Home Electronics included staff from Berkeley Lab, EPA, several European energy efficiency agencies and representatives of leading manufacturers. Topics of discussion included current and potential energy savings, technology and market trends relevant to energy efficiency, future directions for policies and programs, and international cooperation on energy test methods and market-pull activities.

Researchers at the Center and the Energy & Environment Division's Washington D.C. Project Office continue to provide important leadership in this area. For example, a recent, widely publicized Berkeley Lab report found that EPA's ENERGY STAR program had the potential to save businesses and consumers more than $1 billion/year in electricity costs-provided that the power-management controls are properly enabled by the manufacturer and user, and that power-saving software are compatible with other hardware and software in our increasingly interconnected office systems (Koomey et al., 1996).

Researchers at the Center have compiled field-monitored results of actual savings and user experience with power-managed office equipment. Their key finding is that a relatively small fraction (about 15 %) of those computers and monitors capable of automatically powering-down are actually enabled to do so. Further efforts are needed with office equipment-as with many other energy-efficient technologies-to properly install, commission, and educate users of ENERGY STAR products in order to ensure that this equipment produces reliable, long-term energy savings and continues to satisfy user needs.

Another project in the early stages is the monitoring and evaluation of savings in energy and paper from ENERGY STAR copiers. This work will evaluate energy savings from low-power modes, the auto-off feature that turns off the machines at night, and program features to increase duplexing rates. At the D.C. Project Office, an effort to develop a user's guide for copier features like automatic duplexing and weekly timers is underway. All of the private sector partners in the ENERGY STAR copier effort will receive this "copier tool kit," which will include fact sheets to help them educate their customers, and a guide to train their own sales reps and service technicians who work with copiers. The kit will also have general marketing materials such as newsletter articles, media releases and case studies.

Looking ahead, it is especially important to keep up with the rapid evolution of both office equipment technologies and markets, to ensure that energy efficiency programs do not become as obsolescent as a three-year-old PC. New (or reconfigured) products and perhaps entirely new information-processing services will continue to appear. The latest example is the growing popularity of "all-in-one" (multifunction) devices like printer-copier-scanner-faxes, for the home desktop or the office work group. Also, the growing attention on Internet-based computing and increasingly mobile computing are eroding the difference between active and idle modes, between home and workplace (and travel), between work and entertainment, and even between computing functions and communications services. To keep up with these changes, we may need to reinvent the very concept of power management, not just once but repeatedly.

Power management for the "sleep" mode, initially a simple concept, is becoming more complex. Many monitors and copiers now offer different levels of sleep, with correspondingly higher energy savings but slower "wake-up" times. The underlying paradigm of power management may need to shift, from a concept applied separately to each device (PC, monitor, printer, etc.) to optimal management at the systems level by a single point of control. This would optimize energy efficiency during periods of active use (by permitting very short "catnaps"), as well as longer periods of sleep during idle time. All this will require, in turn, a better understanding of both sides of the ergonomic equation: user expectations and behavior, as well as the technology itself.

Other energy efficiency opportunities abound, both in the office itself and in other settings such as home electronics, especially with the blurring of boundaries between home and workplace, work and leisure, and even between computing and communications services. To cite just one example, work by Berkeley Lab researchers and others has identified the potential for more efficient small power supplies for home electronic equipment, appliances and a variety of cordless devices. In a typical U.S. home, electricity savings from reducing the "leakage" of power during standby periods can be as large as eliminating an entire refrigerator, plugged in 24 hours per day (Rainer et al. 1996)

In the office, there is a large, untapped potential for reducing indirect energy and resource use by addressing the paper flow through copiers and computer printers. Increasing the rate of duplexing (two-sided printing and copying), as well as other strategies such as thinner paper stock or reduced-size copies could save in the near-term nearly $0.9 billion/year in paper costs, of which about 25% is embedded energy cost. This is almost as much as the estimated energy cost savings from the full implementation of the ENERGY STAR criteria. In the longer term, there are even more exciting prospects for accelerating the shift from paper-based to fully electronic document management. A current example is the move toward Internet-based "electronic commerce" by the government and private sectors. Here, the benefits from improved customer choice, convenience and competitive pricing may dwarf the energy cost savings themselves.

It should be possible to enhance and guide continued advances in office information technology development toward an emphasis on energy efficiency through "technology procurement" strategies. These involve the organized use of government and institutional buying power to help create an entry market for new or improved technology. The Center is involved in one such project, an international cooperative effort to develop buyer specifications and market- pull for the next generation of efficient, "smart-duplexing" office copiers.

One thing is clear: tomorrow's information technologies, some of which we cannot even imagine today, are certain to offer new opportunities for improved productivity along with even greater energy efficiency.

—Jeffrey Harris, Mary Ann Piette, Jon Koomey, Bruce Nordman, Alison Watkins

Info icon

Jeffrey Harris
Washington D.C. Projects Office
(202) 484-0883; (510) 486-0888 fax
Mary Ann Piette
Energy Analysis Program
(510) 486-6286; (510) 486-4673 fax

J. Koomey et al., 1996. "Efficiency improvements in U.S. office equipment: Expected policy impacts and uncertainties, " LBL-37383.

R Rainer, S. Greenberg , and A. Meier, 1996. "You Won't Find These Leaks With A Blower Door: The Latest In 'Leaking Electricity' In Homes," ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings, Asilomar Calif., August. American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy,Washington, D.C. Text available.

Back to short version of this article.


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