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The cost of network standby

Network Standby and Standby PowerThe conundrum of saving energy while the world becomes increasingly infused with advanced technology that in turn requires increased energy, is proving to be more complex than originally suspected because it’s impossible to see all the possible wrinkles at once. One clear example of these ‘blind spots’ in any energy efficiency policy is the increasing prevalence of networked devices that connect to private home networks or the Internet (or both). Where once such devices were limited to computers via modems that did not maintain a persistent, ‘always-on’ connection, today more and more devices, many of which previously had no Internet presence at all, are incorporating networking into their design.

Network Standby and Standby Power

This eruption of newly-connected devices is causing a great deal of concern for two reasons: One, most of these devices are designed to engage in a ‘network standby’ mode wherein the connection to the network is continuously maintained, meaning the devices never enter into a truly ‘powered-down’ mode unless a standby power switch, such as an EcoSwitch, are connected to the device. Second, as many of these devices are not traditionally connected – things such as televisions, thermostats, or even automobiles – the issue of standby networking is not considered in the energy saving initiatives that have been conceived to date. This means that the power drain of standby networking is flying under the radar, threatening to undermine the attempts to reduce energy use worldwide.

The Cost of Network Standby

The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency commissioned the report ‘Staying Connected: Unravelling Energy Waste Issues in Network Standby’ to quantify the problem and propose solutions. The report contains many alarming statistics regarding networked devices.

While networked devices aside from phones and computers (desktops, laptops, and tablets) are currently more of a novelty, their presence is growing. For example, a survey of household devices conducted in 2010 showed that ‘Appliances connected to network are becoming increasingly prevalent within households’ and noting that 6% of LCD and Plasma ‘flat-screen’ televisions are already ‘network capable.’ Many new televisions ship with video streaming services built-in, allowing consumers to order movies and TV shows and even surf the Internet on their televisions. These capabilities require a constant network connection, and even when the television is being used with a standard cable or satellite connection it typically remains connected to the network persistently, in standby mode.

This connectivity is not confined to televisions. In the kitchen, appliances that might otherwise be energy efficient appliances are increasingly network-capable, allowing them to be operated, programmed, or monitored online from any location. Cars are increasingly networked, often using smartphones as bridges to consumer data plans. Recently, it was discovered that you can search for unsecured networked printers on Google and send print jobs to printers around the globe – network standby is here to stay, and it costs a lot of energy.

The report notes that the wasted energy consumed merely to maintain an idle network connection is likely to exceed 550 TWh worldwide by 2020. As a comparative statistic, the city of Berlin uses about 14 TWh of energy annually today, so this wasted energy would keep the lights on in almost 40 cities the size of Berlin for a year. The total energy consumption of networked devices worldwide is expected to reach about 850 TWh, which means more than half of the energy consumed by such devices is wasted on standby mode.

The Problem

As noted in the report, the main concern is that this waste is not currently incorporated into any of the energy saving initiatives launched worldwide, despite the fact that the numbers clearly indicate that network standby is a growing issue of significant proportion that must be included in efforts to reduce energy worldwide. If standby networking is not considered, efforts that are otherwise successful in saving power could be ultimately offset and negated by the continuing drain of power represented by connected devices that exist in states of standby networking for lengthy periods of time.